Will Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer stick to players he knows in the June Tests or will he reward form?
That is something many of the new faces in the 36-man squad involved in the current training camp here in Cape Town may be thinking about – whether they will actually get a chance to play against Italy, Scotland or Samoa in June.
Meyer is a coach who seems to prefer experienced players or those he “knows” or has worked with before, which could explain some of his selections last year as he didn’t have a lot of time to work with new players and instead opted for several Bulls whom he had encountered before in Pretoria.
This year has been a bit different in that respect. The Bok coach again won’t have much time with the team before the first Test against Italy in Durban on June 8, considering that there are Super Rugby fixtures played the previous weekend, with the Stormers facing the Kings at Newlands and the Cheetahs hosting the Bulls. The Sharks have a bye.
But Meyer said in a press release last week that he has been able to visit four of the five SA teams already – he still has to go to the Kings, who had postponed the planned visit for after their overseas tour – and get insights from the franchise coaches and senior players. Also, Meyer’s own coaching staff are able to help him, which wasn’t the case last year as many of them were still involved with the Bulls.
“Last year, we didn’t have any time to sit with coaches at the various franchises and share ideas,” said Meyer. “They work with our top players on a daily basis and know them best, which makes their thoughts and insights very important to the national cause.”
So, Meyer should have a much better idea about what the likes of a Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Robert Ebersohn, Jan Serfontein, Cobus Reinach and Raymond Rhule could offer the Bok side in 2013. And he should be brave and give some of those players a start, especially against teams like Italy and Scotland, to see if they are up to Test standard ahead of the Rugby Championship later in the year.
Meyer has said before that he rates Du Toit highly, and the 20-year-old who hails from the Boland has shown that he is good enough to play at a higher level. The Sharks No 4 is a strong ball-carrier in the mould of an Eben Etzebeth who powers through tackles and throws his body around on defence, while his lineout jumping isn’t too shabby either.
The fact that Du Toit is equally comfortable as a No 4 lock or blindside flank makes him an even more valuable asset, and he is a hefty two-metres tall and weighs 116kg, according to the SA Rugby website.
With Etzebeth expected to return from injury in the next few weeks, Du Toit could easily fulfil a No 7 flank role instead, where there isn’t a clear-cut favourite. Willem Alberts has barely played this year due to injury, although he is also set to come back in the next few weeks. The Cheetahs’ Lappies Labuschagne is definitely unlucky not to make the squad, considering the performances he has put in, and the only other No 7 who has been impressive is the Kings’ Wimpie van der Walt, who is a tireless and powerful ball-carrier and deadly defender.
For me, all of the above loose forwards have edged ahead of someone like Marcell Coetzee, who, while still producing a high work-rate, does not make as big an impact on attack and defence.
The season-ending injury to Jaco Taute has perhaps robbed Meyer of a back-up No 15 to Zane Kirchner, whose ability to secure the high ball and low error-rate seems to win him the Bok coach’s vote. But surely your fullback should do more than that at Test level?
Kirchner has attacked well for the Bulls in Super Rugby before, but we haven’t really seen that part of his game for the Boks as yet. There isn’t another specialist fullback in the 36-man group, with Frans Steyn, JP Pietersen and Bjorn Basson capable of filling in.
Stormers No 15 Joe Pietersen must be putting himself in contention with his excellent goal-kicking, although he is not nearly as good under the high ball as Kirchner or injured Sharks fullback Louis Ludik, who is out for three months after a shoulder operation.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
@dcatrakilis (Kings flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis, who slotted the winning drop goal against the Rebels): So good to be back in PE! Unbelievable support at the airport, thank you! Thanks for all the messages too. #helloafrica
WHO TO FOLLOW
@Cheslin10 (Cheslin Kolbe): The youngster sat on the Stormers bench, but unfortunately didn’t get on to the field against the Sharks. He hasn’t tweeted as yet, so have a chat with the man.
Follow Ashfak Mohamed on Twitter: @ashfakmohamed
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