Meyer’s World Cup puzzle
Should he trust the old guard or go with the new wave of youngsters?
Abold and successful move by Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer could turn out to be cold comfort for him. Known to be a conservative selector, Meyer’s out-of-character move to pick Jesse Kriel at outside centre worked out for him, but instead of a blessing it could create more problems for the coach.
There were doubts when Meyer converted the 21-year-old Bulls fullback to centre. However, the youngster turned out to be a bright light in a disappointing international season.
Kriel scored a superb try in each of his two test appearances against Australia and New Zealand, and confirmed that the coach had found the solution to at least one of his problems – the player to fill the Number 13 jersey.
But Kriel’s success, especially his understanding with inside centre Damian de Allende, has provided the coach with an unexpected nettle to grasp.
Meyer has been anxiously waiting for Jean de Villiers to make a complete recovery from his muchpublicised knee injury, but bringing the captain back would disrupt what has the makings of an excellent partnership between Kriel and De Allende.
The confidence exuded by the centres radiated to fly half Handré Pollard, who turned in his best match in months against the All Blacks and gave the Springbok back line an edge that troubled the New Zealanders.
Kriel, born at the dawn of South Africa’s new democracy in 1994, has been a revelation in the position he often occupied with his twin brother, Dan, as his centre mate for Maritzburg College and Natal Sharks (youth) and SA Schools.
Adding to the energy and unmissable dynamism in the Boks back line is the fact that Jesse and Dan Kriel and Pollard are housemates in Pretoria, where they play for the Bulls.
Their collective young age represents a new wave that has unexpectedly washed over Meyer because of a flood of injuries and left the coach with difficult decisions to make before Saturday’s final test against the Argentinian Pumas in Durban.
The Springboks can no longer win the Rugby Championship – that is a duel to be settled between the All Blacks and the Wallabies in Sydney earlier on Saturday (kick-off is at 12.05pm) – and have only this and a friendly game against the Pumas before the next item on the agenda: the World Cup.
So what should Meyer do? Does the coach use his last two opportunities to bring back De Villiers and give up the chance to allow the trio of Pollard, De Allende and Kriel to build on their burgeoning partnership?
Does he recall others who have been out of action because of longterm injuries, like Fourie du Preez and Willem Alberts, to at least give them some game time?
Or does he use those who did well, but for late fade-outs, against the All Blacks and the Wallabies to seek the benefits of continuity?
As tempting as the latter might be, the coach has little choice but to experiment.
He has to find out whether De Villiers, on his bionic knee, and Du Preez, on whom he places so much trust, can make it and he has to bring back others who have been battling injuries to remove the question marks before he names his 31-man World Cup squad on August 28.
An added complication is that for their last warm-up match against Argentina, a game that is not part of the Rugby Championship, the touring team will only leave on Thursday, August 13, and take to the field in Buenos Aires two days later.
The fact that South Africa’s opening game in the World Cup is against minnows Japan in Brighton on September 19 gives Meyer a little more room to manoeuvre, but not much.
Does he go with experience and established reputations or must the rule be only those who are fully fit?
There is no doubt Meyer is going to reach his D-day when he has to sign off on the World Cup squad with more players available than he has places for.
Some hearts will be broken.
NEW FIND Jesse Kriel has been a revelation for the Springboks