Meyer to make tough rugby
The elevated terrain on which the rugby fields of St Peter’s College in Johannesburg are situated will soon – for some Springboks – be remembered as Heartbreak Hill. Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer last week assembled a 49-man squad of the good, the wounded and the hopeful to start serious preparations for the rugby World Cup. For the Springboks, the tournament kicks off on September 19, now 75 days away, but in between there will be two friendly test matches and the Rugby Championship for Meyer to hone his troops.
It could be said that the gathering in Johannesburg represents a point of no return for the coach, especially as his chosen group includes an alarming list of 13 injured players – including key men such as captain Jean de Villiers, scrum half Fourie du Preez and No 8 Duane Vermeulen.
The inescapable fact is that Meyer, an honest and decent man, is soon going to be the villain as he shatters many dreams.
World Cup squads must consist of 31 players and, with 49 at the coach’s camp, 18 of those called up will not be making the trip to England. Some will fail because they won’t recover from injuries in time, but others will be cut because selection imperatives will force Meyer to leave them out.
The fact is that Meyer does not have much room to manoeuvre.
Nine of his 31-man squad will have to be front-row forwards because of safety concerns and not wanting to be caught short during the tournament.
Three other positions will be filled by scrum halves, meaning there will be only 19 positions remaining.
Meyer’s concern about getting the mix right is revealed by the fact that he summoned 13 props and hookers to his camp and five scrum halves.
The coach will also be forced to do some smart juggling – not only to get the mix right but also to satisfy the transformation demands that have been thrown his way.
At loose forward, for instance, Meyer will no doubt field what has become his go-to trio of Vermeulen, Willem Alberts and Francois Louw.
But lining up behind them, with not too much to choose from between them in terms of ability, are the formidable trio of Schalk Burger, Oupa Mohojé and Marcell Coetzee.
Siya Kolisi, Heinrich Brüssow and Warren Whiteley also need to be considered, but the ideal would be only five loose forwards.
Therefore, apart from his fervent hope that skipper De Villiers and kingpin Du Preez will make it back to full fitness in time, Meyer will have to look some very good players in the eye and say: “I’m sorry, but you’re not going.”
KEY MAN The injured Fourie du Preez is at the Springbok World Cup training camp