1. Where are we?

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

WHEN Spring­bok coach Heyneke Meyer met with a group of South African rugby writ­ers for a cof­fee in the team ho­tel on the Sun­day af­ter the Twick­en­ham Test that ended the sea­son last year, he made a prom­ise that his side has cer­tainly man­aged to keep.

“Next year what was new to us this year will start to be­come sec­ond na­ture. Our at­tack­ing game will grow a lot, and that is some­thing I can prom­ise you,” said the coach.

Meyer was helped this year by his team hav­ing a much eas­ier build-up to the se­ri­ous part of the sea­son, mean­ing the Rugby Cham­pi­onship, than was the case in his first sea­son in charge. Italy, Scot­land and Samoa rep­re­sented a far less daunt­ing prospect than his bap­tism last year against Eng­land af­ter just a five-day buildup to the se­ries.

The ex­tra work Meyer was able to put into the plan­ning for the new sea­son now that he is work­ing with a man­age­ment that is com­mit­ted fully to him rather than also work­ing for the Bulls has paid off, and his will­ing­ness to think out­side of the box was show­cased by the se­lec­tion of play­ers such as Wil­lie le Roux.

Whereas the Boks strug­gled to score tries in his first year of the cy­cle, the con­fi­dence they took into the Cham­pi­onship saw them ac­cu­mu­late no less than four bonus points for scor­ing four tries or more. And with four wins from six starts in the Cham­pi­onship, fol­lowed by another suc­cess­ful end-ofyear tour in which Wales, Scot­land and France gave them an 80 per­cent+ win per­cent­age for the year, it en­abled the Boks to reach the half­way point be­tween World Cups hav­ing shown mea­sur­able progress.

How­ever, as the All Blacks, more than any other team, is the one that South Africans mea­sure their team and coaches by, the de­feat in the fi­nal match at El­lis Park was a set­back.

It means the Boks have lost all four of the games they have played against their main ri­vals since the World Cup.

But while the All Blacks have un­de­ni­ably shown signs of progress, and have grown di­men­sions to their game where they were weak be­fore, the Boks are build­ing up im­pres­sive depth too. young Free Stater Jo­han Goosen when the 2012 Rugby Cham­pi­onship sea­son came to an end. Un­for­tu­nately Goosen wasn’t able to kick on from a strong first start against Aus­tralia be­cause of in­jury.

The hope­fully tem­po­rary halt the in­juries have brought to Goosen’s de­vel­op­ment are a cry­ing shame, for there can be no deny­ing the young player’s awe­some po­ten­tial to be­come that rare thing in a Bok fly­half – namely a pivot who is strong in al­most all as­pects of fly­half play and run, pass and tackle as well as he can kick. But if he is fit for the du­ra­tion of next year there is still time for him to be rein­tro­duced and given a chance to set­tle.

In any event, the Boks can’t ap­proach the World Cup with just one fly­half, and Pa­trick Lam­bie prob­a­bly should have been of­fered more game time in the pre-sea­son Test matches than he was. His show­ing in the win over Scot­land on the endof-year tour was pos­i­tive.

And then there is the pre­co­cious Han­dré Pol­lard, who was part of the Baby Bok tri­umph at the 2012 World Cup while still a school­boy.

Watch him, for he has mas­sive po­ten­tial.

The No 5 lock sit­u­a­tion has a less easy rem­edy, which may be why there are per­sis­tent ru­mours cir­cu­lat­ing in the back­ground that Vic­tor Mat­field may be poised to do a Ge­orge Smith by re­turn­ing to rugby next year.

For­tu­nately, al­though he wasn’t used that much on tour, young Sharks player Pi­eterSteph du Toit showed signs of growth at the end of the Cur­rie Cup sea­son.

There is no deny­ing that Du Toit packs enor­mous po­ten­tial, but the ques­tion re­volves around how quickly he is go­ing to de­velop.

4. The strong points

THE Boks made a strong step for­ward with their play at the break­downs this year, and the re­turn to the play­ing field of Schalk Burger in the Cur­rie Cup was a re­minder that South Africa has a pool of loose­for­ward re­sources that would be the envy of any other coun­try. Willem Al­berts is now an es­tab­lished match- win­ner at blind­side flank, and he has strong back-up in the form of Burger and Arno Botha, the lat­ter mak­ing an im­pres­sive de­but against Italy be­fore be­ing in­jured a week later against Scot­land back in June.

In Bis­marck du Plessis and Adriaan Strauss, Meyer has the choice of two hook­ers who would be good enough for any other in­ter­na­tional team. Both of them have built up a vast reser­voir of ex­pe­ri­ence.

Jan­nie du Plessis missed tack­les in both matches against New Zealand but as long as he is the only tight for­ward with ques­tion marks over his de­fence that can be cov­ered by the sys­tem.

He has be­come re­ally good in his pri­mary role, as has Tendai Mtawarira, and you don’t get the im­pres­sion the Bok scrum will be tak­ing any steps back­ward any time soon.

Much will de­pend though on how quickly young Frans Mal­herbe, who played twice on the end-of-year tour, de­vel­ops, and on how well Coe­nie Oosthuizen con­tin­ues his ad­just­ment to tight­head. Scrum coach Pi­eter de Vil­liers has done great work in his field of ex­per­tise this year.

5. The over-30 club

MOST coaches are in agree­ment that for a team to stand a chance of World Cup suc­cess there has to be a nu­cleus of ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers around whom any po­ten­tial ta­lented new­com­ers can be in­tro­duced. New Zealand has that, and South Africa has that.

The ques­tion, though, is how many is too many?

The Eng­land team that won the World Cup in 2003 had the right mix, but per­haps the Wal­la­bies of 1995 banked too much on the play­ers who won the World Cup for them in 1991, and the same for the Boks of 2011.

In the back­line, in par­tic­u­lar, the Boks are in dan­ger of be­com­ing an over- 30s club, with Fourie du Preez, Morne Steyn, Jean de Vil­liers, Jaque Fourie, JP Pi­etersen and Bryan Ha­bana all set to be into their fourth decade of life when 2015 rolls around. So a fine bal­anc­ing act may be nec­es­sary.

6. The over­seas ques­tion

MEYER was lauded for bring­ing Fourie du Preez, Jaque Fourie and JP Pi­etersen back to play for the Boks from Ja­pan, and he must be the envy of the coaches of the other two big south­ern hemi­sphere teams for be­ing al­lowed by his na­tional union to choose play­ers based over­seas.

But in the build-up to the match against Aus­tralia in Bris­bane the po­ten­tial pit­falls were drummed home when French- based play­ers were called on to play for their clubs at a time when the rest of the squad was in Aus­tralia pre­par­ing for the match. Again, as with the ques­tion about older play­ers, what is the right bal­ance?

7. The re­sources

IT would be naïve to sug­gest ev­ery­thing will run per­fectly smoothly for the Boks be­tween now and 2015, but one thing is cer­tain – the Boks have re­sources to draw on that would be the envy of most other na­tions.

The pro­vin­cial acad­e­mies and the var­i­ous feeder com­pe­ti­tions that are tak­ing root are be­gin­ning to pro­duce a con­veyor belt of ta­lented play­ers that should en­sure no Bok coach should ever feel he is short of raw ma­te­rial to work with. The fol­low­ing are Meyer’s op­tions for 2015 as it stands now, and not tak­ing into ac­count new play­ers who will make their mark be­tween now and then (play­ers with util­ity value are listed in all po­si­tions they could play): Full­backs: Frans Steyn, Zane Kirch­ner, Wil­lie le Roux, Pa­trick Lam­bie, Jaco Taute, Gio Aplon. Wings: Bryan Ha­bana, Bjorn Bas­son, JP Pi­etersen, Wil­lie le Roux, Lwazi Mvovo, JJ En­gel­brecht. Cen­tres: Jean de Vil­liers, Jan Ser­fontein, Frans Steyn, JJ En­gel­brecht, Juan de Jongh, Jaque Fourie. Fly­halves: Jo­han Goosen, Morne Steyn, Pa­trick Lam­bie, Han­dré Pol­lard. Scrumhalves: Fourie du Preez, Ruan Pien­aar, Jano Ver­maak, Fran­cois Hougaard. No 8s: Duane Ver­meulen, Pierre Spies, Willem Al­berts, Ryan Kankowski (pos­si­bly). Flanks: Fran­cois Louw, Willem Al­berts, Schalk Burger, Siya Kolisi, Arno Botha, Mar­cell Coet­zee. Locks: Eben Etze­beth, Flip van der Merwe, Juan­dre Kruger, Pi­eter-Steph du Toit, An­dries Bekker (pos­si­bly). Props: Tendai Mtawarira, Jan­nie du Plessis, Coe­nie Oosthuizen, Gurthro Steenkamp, Frans Mal­herbe, Lourens Adri­aanse. Hook­ers: Bis­marck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss.

GETTY IM­AGES

WIN­NING PART­NER­SHIP: Bok coach Heyneke Meyer and cap­tain Jean de Vil­liers haven’t done too badly, have they?

Only Meyer knows if An­dries Bekker is still Bok ma­te­rial.

A fit Jo­han Goosen could be the Boks’ an­swer at fly­half.

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