Meyer’s World Cup puz­zle

Should he trust the old guard or go with the new wave of young­sters?

CityPress - - Sport - DAN RETIEF sports@city­press.co.za

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.

PHOTO: DUIF DU TOIT / GALLO IM­AGES

NEW FIND Jesse Kriel has been a rev­e­la­tion for the Spring­boks

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