Everything the Springboks do this season will be geared towards next year’s World Cup in England.
National coach Heyneke Meyer won’t so much be concerned with the results as with the way his team plays; the tactics they employ and the structures they put in place.
This season will also mark the point at which Meyer has to virtually settle on a squad and build them into a combination that will be able to launch a serious challenge in England.
Much of that squad will be easy to pick, but just over a year from the World Cup there’s still no clarity on who’ll be the first-choice flyhalf and the man who’ll be tasked with directing everything the Boks do.
In fact, going into this year’s internationals, it is a worrying fact that no one who wears the all-important No 10 is flourishing. Meyer has to be a concerned man.
Injuries, loss of form and lack of game time mean the options available to the Bok boss are ly limited. And, like it or not, the man in the inside lane to feature in the June Tests is still Morne Steyn.
The former Bulls man may now be based in France, playing at Stade Francais, but he has the most experience of all the available No 10s and is the incumbent.
The only problem is the 29-year-old isn’t the first choice at his French club. He’s been playing second fiddle to French prodigy Jules Plisson this season and has started only nine times in his 25 appearances in the Top 14.
It appears, however, that Meyer will again look to his former Bulls star, a player who’s been part of the Bok set-up for some time and brings with him a wealth of experience. Steyn knows Meyer inside out and understands what’s required of him in the Bok jersey.
Steyn’s closest challenger, Pat Lambie, will miss the June Tests because of injury and will be available again only for the Rugby Championship. This is a blow for Meyer, who would have liked to see both men in action against the World XV, Wales and Scotland in June and then make his decision on who to back.
Next in line – and probably Steyn’s back-up in June – will be the Cheetahs’ Johan Goosen. The youngster has always been a favourite of Meyer’s, but a string of injuries has stalled his Bok career and he’s yet to reach the heights he achieved a few years ago when he made his Bok debut.
He’s been in and out of action for the Cheetahs this season and there will be question marks about his fitness and form.
The other man who was pushing for inclusion last year is Elton Jantjies, but he has started only twice for the Lions this season and doesn’t appear to be on Meyer’s radar.
Of course, Frans Steyn, who has filled in at times at No 10 for the Sharks, in the absence of Lambie, is also a possibility, but Meyer may prefer to use him in the midfield or at fullback.
The Bulls’ Handre Pollard will also come into the selection mix, but again, he’s had little game time this season and will feature for the SA under-20 team at the Junior World Cup in the next few months.
Marnitz Boshoff of the Lions has shown he can be a match-winner, but he’s struggled recently to keep up the form which had everyone talking at the start of the Super Rugby competition. Behind a strong pack, though, Meyer might just feel he’s worth having a look at.
The other men to play flyhalf in the Super Rugby competition this year – Louis Fouche and Jacques-Louis Potgieter, for the Bulls, Elgar Watts, for the Cheetahs, Fred Zeilinga and Tim Swiel for the Sharks, and Peter Grant, Kurt Coleman and Demetri Catrakilis, for the Stormers – are either injured, horribly off form or not serious options.
It leaves Morne Steyn as the sole choice, but beyond him, there’s no one who’s stuck up his hand and said “pick me”.
Meyer will name a 36-man Bok training squad in the week of May 19, which will train for two days, and a final squad for the June Tests will be named on May 31.
And who’ll be Bok scrumhalf?
Heyneke Mayer may be left with no choice but to look abroad when it comes to finding the right man to play in the No 9 jersey.
Getting the Springbok halfback combination settled and comfortable this season will be crucial, and if Morne Steyn is to be the flyhalf then perhaps the best option at scrumhalf is veteran Fourie du Preez.
Are there any other options anyway? Du Preez was brought back into the mix last year and showed he still has plenty to offer Bok rugby.
Now based in Japan, it’s debatable, though, whether he’ll be available for the whole Test season this year. But he remains the first choice.
Next in line will be two other players who are based overseas, Ruan Pienaar and Jano Vermaak, both of whom played for the Boks last year.
Castres-based Rory Kockott will also come into the reckoning, though proof the talent on display in South Africa is a little thin.
The form of the Bulls’ Francois Hougaard has been patchy, the Sharks’ Charl McLeod has been steady, Cobus Reinach has been injured and Nick Groom and Louis Schreuder at the Stormers are not really in the selection mix.
Sarel Pretorius of the Cheetahs could get a look-in, but if he was in Meyer’s plans he’d surely have featured by now, while Piet van Zyl, of the Bulls, has hardly played this season.
The Lions’ Faf de Klerk has been a revelation, but he’s not ready to step up to Test level.