Heyneke Meyer and his charges kick off preparations today for the 2014 edition of the Rugby Championship and front of their minds will be to beat the All Blacks this season.
Of course, winning the title will be the priority, but they’re not likely to do that unless they’re able to get the better of the world champions. In four attempts – in 2012 and last year – the Boks came close but Meyer’s side are yet to beat the No1 side in the world.
And until that happens, Meyer’s team – and his selections – will be questioned in some quarters. Now in his third year in charge of the national team, the pressure will be on the former Bulls man to do what few teams are actually capable of achieving. But, having laid a solid foundation since becoming the Bok boss, and winning regularly away from home, some feel it is now a non-negotiable – the time has come for the Boks to take over from New Zealand as the world’s leading team.
Various factors though have again conspired against Meyer – among them injuries to key players, such as Fourie du Preez, Jaque Fourie and a few others, while certain members of a first choice team, like JP Pietersen and possibly Schalk Burger, are unavailable because of Japanese club commitments. Another key figure, Frans Steyn, is no longer available after falling out with Meyer and Saru over problems with certain parts of his national contract.
Added to this, captain Jean de Villiers only returns to national duty this week after spending several weeks sidelined through injury, while Eben Etzebeth and Pat Lambie are also only now available after missing out in June, also through injury.
But Meyer has picked a formidable Rugby Championship squad, with just Damian de Allende and Cobus Reinach the uncapped players. De Allende could make his long-awaited debut against Argentina next weekend, while Reinach will probably only serve as backup to Ruan Pienaar and Francois Hougaard.
The squad is a good blend of youth and experience, with all positions well covered. There are seasoned men, but also exciting youngsters, from fullback to loosehead prop – all of whom have shown over the last year they’re good enough to play international rugby. Meyer won’t have any sleepless nights about any positions, and that’ll be a huge boost for him.
Even hooker, with the very experienced Schalk Brits getting the nod behind Bismarck du Plessis and Adriaan Strauss, is well covered.
Picking a starting team for the first Test of the competition (at Loftus Versfeld next Saturday) won’t be an issue, but Meyer will have some tough decisions to make.
The Boks will train in Joburg this week, with all the players undergoing medical assessment, and then get toget-her in Pretoria next Monday ahead of the showdown with Argentina.
Forwards: Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Teboho Mohoje, Francois Louw, Victor Matfield, Lood de Jager, Bakkies Botha, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Frans Malherbe, Beast Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, Gurthrö Steenkamp, Bismarck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Schalk Brits
Backs: Willie le Roux, Pat Lambie, Lwazi Mvovo, Bryan Habana, Cornal Hendricks, Damian de Allende, Jean de Villiers (capt), Jan Serfontein, Morné Steyn, Handré Pollard, Ruan Pienaar, Francois Hougaard, Cobus Reinach
Not considered: Flip van der Merwe, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Arno Botha, Pierre Spies, Jaque Fourie, Fourie du Preez
In Japan (to be considered later): JP Pietersen and Schalk Burger
August 16: Australia v New Zealand 12.05pm; South Africa v Argentina 5pm
August 23: New Zealand v Australia 9.35am;
Argentina v South Africa 9.40pm
New Zealand v Argentina 9.35am; Australia v South Africa 12.05pm
New Zealand v South Africa 9.35am; Australia v Argentina 12.05pm
September 27: South Africa v Australia 5pm;
Argentina v New Zealand 9.10pm
October 4: South Africa v New Zealand 5pm;
Argentina v Australia 9.10pm - The Star