Tour hands Meyer op­tions

Much in­ter­est will fo­cus on what he does with Le Roux and Du Toit

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - GAVIN RICH

THE tour of Wales, Scot­land and France which kicks off in Cardiff next Satur­day should see ex­cit­ing Chee­tahs util­ity back Wil­lie le Roux make the fi­nal shift to the des­ig­na­tion that Spring­bok coach Heyneke Meyer al­ways in­tended for him – that of su­per-sub.

Le Roux has started ev­ery Test since be­ing se­lected into the Spring­bok team for the first time in the open­ing match of the year against Italy in Dur­ban, and fared bet­ter than many may have an­tic­i­pated.

When used as a full­back, Le Roux was the cat­a­lyst that un­locked the at­tack­ing po­ten­tial of a back­line which had looked im­po­tent last year.

And he again showed good touches as a run­ner and han­dler of the ball once switched to the wing for the big­ger games against New Zealand and Aus­tralia.

But the fact that Meyer did move him from the last line of de­fence was an in­di­ca­tion that Le Roux hadn’t com­pletely won him over, and Le Roux was one of the play­ers who made glar­ing de­fen­sive er­rors in the re­cent de­feat to the All Blacks in the Rugby Cham­pi­onship de­cider in Joburg.

With JP Pi­etersen re­leased by his Ja­panese club to play on this tour, and Bryan Ha­bana pro­nounced fit over the ham­string in­jury that forced him off at El­lis Park four weeks ago, the door ap­pears to be clos­ing on Le Roux as a po­ten­tial mem­ber of the start­ing team.

Meyer has given a strong in­di­ca­tion that he in­tends start­ing with Pi­etersen on the wing, and in north­ern hemi­sphere con­di­tions he is un­likely to de­vi­ate from the solid as a house Zane Kirch­ner as his full­back.

That leaves the su­per-sub po­si­tion open, al­though even that could close if Meyer does not in­tend se­lect­ing the re­turn­ing Jaque Fourie straight back into his old po­si­tion of out­side cen­tre.

There has been spec­u­la­tion that Meyer might well be pre­pared to start with Fourie straight away, but the wise ap­proach would be the one he adopted when Fourie du Preez re­turned ear­lier this year, which would mean eas­ing him back off the bench.

If Fourie does play off the bench, would there be space for Le Roux given that Pa­trick Lam­bie would be the likely fly­half back-up and he also cov­ers full­back?

So given that the Boks do tend to be­come more con­ser­va­tive be­cause of the con­di­tions on north­ern hemi­sphere tours, it could well be that Le Roux ends up play­ing a far less prom­i­nent role for the Boks than he has up to now.

It re­mains to be seen whether Meyer will be pre­pared to be bold and mix and match his selec­tions a bit for the mid­dle game against Scot­land in Ed­in­burgh.

Mur­ray­field has been a scene of am­bush for the Boks in re­cent times and no Bok coach wants to be re­mem­bered for los­ing to Scot­land, but that is a game that the South Africans should be able to get away with a bit of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion.

If there is a time for Le Roux to be given the chance to thumb his nose at the the­ory that he is not suited to north­ern con­di­tions, the Mur­ray­field match could well be it, and it is surely also the ideal op­por­tu­nity for Lam­bie to get the feel again of the No 10 jersey he wore on the last end-of-year tour.

How­ever, Meyer’s pol­icy to date has been to se­lect his best team for ev­ery Test for the pur­pose of build­ing up win­ning mo­men­tum, and while he does have half an eye on the 2015 World Cup, he will prob­a­bly again fo­cus on the here and now.

That is a pity, for there is a strong ar­gu­ment for him us­ing parts of this tour to look at other op­tions and thus grow his depth as pro­tec­tion against fu­ture in­juries.

Talk­ing of in­juries, an in­jury might this week have un­wit­tingly con­spired in favour of the Spring­bok long-term am­bi­tions.

Jan­nie du Plessis has been a fix­ture at tight­head prop since Meyer took over as na­tional coach, and that en­abled Meyer to get on with the busi­ness of con­vert­ing Coe­nie Oosthuizen into a tight­head in the less stress­ful en­vi­ron­ment granted a player who plays off the bench.

As­sum­ing that Oosthuizen will be pressed by Du Plessis’s ab­sence into start­ing, this is when we will see whether the Free Stater re­ally has it in him to pack down on the right hand side of the scrum at the high­est level.

Past Novem­ber tours have proved turn­ing points when it comes to the front-row plan­ning, such as in 2009 when matches against France and Italy fi­nally de­cided the then coach Peter de Vil­liers against the John Smit tight­head ex­per­i­ment.

Lourens Adri­aanse has been called up as Jan­nie’s re­place­ment and has looked the busi­ness at lower lev­els and could profit from get­ting an op­por­tu­nity if Oosthuizen is shown up.

And Frans Mal­herbe is a young player with awe­some po­ten­tial that could well be ful­filled by the time the World Cup ar­rives two years from now.

What­ever proves the case, the fact that Meyer has been forced to go out­side his com­fort zone in the front-row, as in­deed he was this time last year at loose­head be­cause of Beast Mtawarira’s heart pal­pi­ta­tions, may be a good thing for the Boks if you take the long term view.

Some of the ex­tra play­ers added to the squad this week who many peo­ple are mak­ing a fuss about – Scarra Ntubeni, Louis Schreuder and Gio Aplon – will prob­a­bly not fea­ture in the match-day squads at all, and it is also un­likely that re­turn­ing vet­eran Bakkies Botha, now 34, will be more than a bench player.

What will be in­ter­est­ing, though, will be to see how long it takes Meyer to in­tro­duce the Sharks’s Cur­rie Cup fi­nal hero, Pi­eter-Steph du Toit.

The smart money should be on Flip van der Merwe start­ing in the No 5 jersey against Euro­pean cham­pi­ons Wales next Satur­day, with Du Toit play­ing off the bench, but in the view of many the sooner the coach pairs up the young sec­ond row duo of Eben Etze­beth and Du Toit so much the bet­ter for the South African World Cup hopes.


SE­LEC­TION POSER: The re­turn of Jacque Fourie, top left, and JP Pi­etersen, top right, into the mix has put Wil­lie le Roux’s Bok po­si­tion in doubt as Heyneke Meyer is un­likely to de­vi­ate from se­lect­ing Zane Kirch­ner, bot­tom right, at full­back. Even Gio Aplon, bot­tom left, is un­likely to fea­ture in any of the three match-day squads.

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