Bok selection aimed at 2015
Meyer’s picks have to take into account goals for World Cup
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.
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.