Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has confessed he is “too spoilt for choice” and picking a Springbok team has been his toughest task in 2012.
And, Meyer admitted on Wednesday, the job would become so much more difficult next year when a clutch of injured players, including Schalk Burger, Andries Bekker, Frans Steyn, Bismarck du Plessis, Heinrich Brüssow and Pierre Spies, are available again.
Meyer was speaking exclusively to The Star about his tough selection decisions this season, particularly at prop, hooker, loose forward, flyhalf and in the centres.
“It’s been the hardest part of my job this year,” said Meyer on Wednesday when he named Juan de Jongh at outside centre for Saturday’s Test against Scotland here.
The only other change to the team that beat Ireland last weekend is in the front row where a fit-again Gurthrö Steenkamp takes over from Beast Mtawarira, who’s returned home because of heart problems.
Meyer said it was difficult trying to keep the whole of South Africa happy from one Test to the next and making his job even tougher was the fact he came into 2012 having not had a core group to work with.
“Guys like Kitch Christie and Jake White, and even Peter de Villiers, had a core to work with… guys with experience and many Test caps. I haven’t had that luxury really.
“Also, fans see guys playing on television and want them in the team… but what you see on TV isn’t what you always get in training and I’ve had to learn about the players this year and see how they react under pressure.
“Sure, I’ve made mistakes through the season, but that was always going to be the case after not working hands-on with players for over two years.”
Meyer has, indeed, used several players in just about every position this season, but he says the Boks will reap the benefits in the next few years. “It’s a blessing we’ve got so much talent, but the key in 2013 will be to identify a group of 30 players and stick with them.
“I’m not going to be able to chop and change next year… maybe just add some guys here and there, but we need a nucleus again. It’s going to be tough to find the right 30 though because what do I do when the injured guys start coming back? Do I just get rid of the youngsters who are playing so well now and learning every match or do I stick with them at the expense of experienced hands? Also, must I simply pick experienced players, guys who’ve sat out this whole year, on reputation alone?”
Meyer said he was excited about the future.
“A Springbok head coach doesn’t sleep much, but I’m excited about the next few years. If we can find the right core this is going to be a very exciting team.”
Meyer added it was pleasing to be able to select a settled side for Saturday’s game, but he also felt it was time to give De Jongh a chance to show his mettle.
“He’s impressed all season and it’s just right that he gets a chance.”
Tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis has been included in the starting team despite missing training all week.
He sustained an ankle injury against Ireland, but Meyer said the big Sharks man was ready to play. “He’s a real warrior, an unbelievable player and he keeps producing for us. He loves playing for his country and will be on his post come Saturday.”
SPRINGBOK STARTING XV: Zane Kirchner, JP Pietersen, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers (capt), Francois Hougaard, Pat Lambie, Ruan Pienaar, Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Juandré Kruger, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Gurthrö Steenkamp. Replacements: Schalk Brits, Heinke van der Merwe, CJ van der Linde, Flip van der Merwe, Marcell Coetzee, Morné Steyn, Jaco Taute, Lwazi Mvovo – The Star