Bok se­lec­tion aimed at 2015

Meyer’s picks have to take into ac­count goals for World Cup

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

in Ed­in­burgh THIS tour of Wales, Scot­land and France is a bit like read­ing where there is the text and then there is the sub-text. In this case, there is the tour, and then there is the stuff hap­pen­ing around it that is geared to­wards another ob­jec­tive other than the “here and now”.

Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon at a cold and chilly train­ing venue out­side this amaz­ing city pro­vided an ex­am­ple of the paths that are run­ning par­al­lel to each other, but which have one end in sight – the 2015 World Cup. It came in the form of Chee­tahs fly­half Jo­han Goosen run­ning up and down the touch­line, sep­a­rate from the play­ing squad, who were busy on the field pre­par­ing for tomorrow’s Test against Scot­land at Mur­ray­field.

Why is Goosen here? Coach Heyneke Meyer said at the start of the tour that it was un­likely he would play. The young pivot had hardly played any rugby af­ter com­ing back from a long in­jury-en­forced lay-off when he was se­lected into the group. And now he has a slight in­jury that pre­vents him from even tak­ing a full part in train­ing.

But there is method in it, and it all comes down to one thing – clearly Meyer rates Goosen, and rates him highly. So he wants him with the Boks so he can con­tinue the de­vel­op­ment he started with his clutch of Test ap­pear­ances last year, but which was halted by in­jury.

He was the first choice when he was in­jured in the Rugby Cham­pi­onship game against New Zealand last year, and as he brings more to the po­si­tion than Morné Steyn does, he may even still be No 1 in Meyer’s eyes.

It’s why Pa­trick Lam­bie has to pull out all the stops when he wears the No 10 against Scot­land tomorrow. The Sharks player en­joyed a good tour to the north last year, but it has be­come clear dur­ing the course of the sea­son that he didn’t do quite enough to com­pletely con­vince Meyer he should be one of the two fly­halves that he wants to go for­ward to the World Cup with.

And if the selec­tions didn’t tell us that, Lam­bie’s se­lec­tion at full­back for last week’s game in Cardiff should have told us. As should Meyer’s new di­rec­tive to the player to get used to play­ing both po­si­tions.

Lam­bie’s name did not ap­pear on the list that ad­vanced the other part of the World Cup build-up story run­ning par­al­lel to this tour, be­ing the 10 play­ers who the South African Rugby Union has con­tracted un­til the end of 2015.

Some might point out that Goosen has also been omit­ted, which could mean France-based Morné Steyn is still the front-run­ner to be the fly­half in Eng­land in two years from now.

But Lam­bie’s omis­sion might be more sig­nif­i­cant given he has been a con­stant part of the squad over two sea­sons and Frans Steyn, his Sharks team­mate, has not only been in­cluded, but in­cluded as a util­ity back.

That is surely an in­di­ca­tion that Meyer is also look­ing at Steyn as a po­ten­tial full­back, a view shared by those who have fresh mem­o­ries of how well Steyn played when he wore the No 15 in the tri­umphant 2009 sea­son, when the Boks won both the TriNa­tions and a se­ries against the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Li­ons.

The mas­sive dis­tances Steyn can at­tain with his field kick­ing, and his im­mov­abil­ity when he catches the high ball, all mark him as a man who can do a great job as an in­ter­na­tional full­back.

And with Jean de Vil­liers play­ing on and Jan Ser­fontein com­ing through as a po­ten­tial in­side cen­tre, where Steyn is se­lected may come down to where Jake White plays him for the Sharks next year.

The ini­tial indi­ca­tions are he will be used in the mid­field, so that may be a fly in the oint­ment, al­though if it means Steyn and Lam­bie com­bine in the fly­half/ in­side cen­tre de­ci­sion­mak­ing axis as well as they have the po­ten­tial to do, it could also be a ben­e­fi­cial move to all the par­ties.

None­the­less, re­gard­less of what may or may not hap­pen next year, the The 10 Spring­boks who were awarded long-term con­tracts: Willem Al­berts (loose for­ward), Jean de Vil­liers (cen­tre), Bis­marck du Plessis (hooker), Jan­nie du Plessis (prop), Eben Etze­beth (lock), Siya Kolisi (loose for­ward), Tendai Mtawarira (prop), Frans Steyn (util­ity back), Adriaan Strauss (hooker) and Duane Ver­meulen (No 8). pres­sure is on Lam­bie to grab with both hands some­thing that up to now he has only got a soft grip on.

De Vil­liers is part of the con­tracted group to 2015, which may have raised the eye­brows of some crit­ics as he has gone on record say­ing he will make a de­ci­sion on the World Cup in 2014.

The Peter de Vil­liers/John Smit ex­pe­ri­ence, where the coach made a prom­ise to the cap­tain two years ahead of time and then the skip­per went over the hill as a player, is still a fresh mem­ory and a sen­si­tive sub­ject.

But be­ing con­tracted doesn’t mean De Vil­liers will nec­es­sar­ily feel ob­li­gated to go through to the end of 2015. Al­though De Vil­liers had his stint over­seas and was never likely to be one of the guys who would leave, he is the cap­tain and it would look odd if he wasn’t part of the group.

Some have asked why there are no scrumhalves on the con­tracted list, but that is eas­ily an­swered. The top three scrumhalves – Fourie du Preez, Ruan Pien­aar and Jano Ver­maak – are all based over­seas.

The press state­ment is­sued from Saru head­quar­ters in Cape Town along­side the list of play­ers stated it was just the start of the process of con­tract­ing the top play­ers, some­thing that will con­tinue into 2014 and even into the World Cup year. But it does ac­cu­rately re­flect the value Meyer at­taches to some of the play­ers.

His de­ci­sion to de­lay a call on Willem Al­berts’ fit­ness for Mur­ray­field al­ready spoke vol­umes about how cru­cial Meyer sees the big Sharks blind­side flank’s pres­ence in the Bok set-up to be, and there shouldn’t be too many ar­gu­ments about the pres­ence of the Sharks’ front-row, Storm­ers be­he­moth Eben Etze­beth and No 8 Duane Ver­meulen.

As he is only the back-up hooker, Adriaan Strauss’ pres­ence might be ques­tioned, but he is seen as a leader within the group – and hooker is also not a po­si­tion where there are over­seas-based play­ers skew­ing the view now that Chili­boy Rale­pelle’s star ap­pears to have waned some­what.

But with this tour not fin­ished, and Meyer adamant that it is the start of the build-up to the World Cup and a test­ing ground to find out if play­ers can sink or swim, the lo­cal play­ers in the cur­rent Bok squad have more than just places in the team to play for. They’re play­ing for con­tracts.

GALLO IM­AGES

VI­TAL TASK: Pat Lam­bie, seen here dur­ing Spring­bok team train­ing ses­sion ear­lier this year, will have his work cut out for him to im­press when he plays fly­half against Scot­land in Ed­in­burgh tomorrow.

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