Surfeit of skills have selectors in a quandary
ONE thing Springbok coach Peter de Villiers doesn’t have to worry about is a lack of talent. South Africa has it in abundance, and when he and his co-selectors sit down to pick their squad for next month’s tour to Europe, their toughest challenge will be deciding who to leave out.
And, as is always the case when a national squad is named, there will be the unlucky ones. But on this occasion because a bigger squad is being picked for the five-match tour, there will be fewer players who’ll feel “left out”.
De Villiers’ touring party will be named on Saturday, after the Currie Cup final at Loftus Versfeld. There will once again be a few surprises – there always are – but, by and large, South African fans should be satisfied with the names read out.
In all, 37 players will tour, with an enlarged management team, who’ll take charge of the so-called “midweek” team, that will play against Leicester Tigers on November 6 and Saracens on November 17.
Most of the men who’ll feature in these two “tour” matches will be players De Villiers and Co consider to be the future of Springbok rugby.
The Test team, who’ll be up against France, Italy and Ireland, will remain largely the same as the side that ran out in the Tri-Nations.
De Villiers, however, indicated some time ago he would consider resting some of the more experienced players.
“It’s been a long year, with a lot of rugby and some of the guys might need a rest. I’ll discuss my feelings with them on an individual level and try to convince them to rather stay home,” De Villiers said last month.
With the Boks – and De Villiers – looking to cement their place atop the world rankings and continue the momentum from the successes over the British and Irish Lions, New Zealand and Australia, the Bok boss will, however, not want to take any risks in the Test matches, so he’ll have to be wise when selecting his final squad.
Senior Boks he may consider leaving at home are John Smit, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Fourie du Preez and even Bryan Habana. These men have served South Africa fantastically this year and in the case of Botha, Du Preez and Habana, have been nursing niggling injuries in the last while.
The tour will provide De Villiers with an opportunity to look at new, promising talent – those players who’ll feature against Leicester and Saracens – but also see who is best suited to fill the roles vacated by Jean de Villiers and Frans Steyn, who are now plying their trade abroad.
If nothing else, this may be the most important goal of the trip – finding replacements for these two world-class performers.
One other player who’ll definitely not be in action next month is flanker Juan Smith, who’ll stay behind because of a knee injury.
Finding a replacement for him, to wear the No 7 jersey, will not be nearly as difficult a task as deciding who’ll wear the No 12 and 15 jerseys.
With Heinrich Brussow having made the No 6 jersey his own this year, and Pierre Spies close to his best again at eighthman, Schalk Burger will in all likelihood take over at blindside flank, providing the Boks with one of the most destructive and dynamic loosetrios in world rugby.
Morne Steyn’s goal-kicking ability has made him first choice flyhalf, which means Ruan Pienaar will most probably resume his role at fullback now that Steyn is no longer available. But, who’ll wear the No 12 jumper?
Some have suggested that with Jaque Fourie back to his best at outside centre, Adrian Jacobs now has an opportunity to cement his place in the team – at inside centre. Others, though, have even gone so far as to say Fourie, because of his strength and defensive abilities, should shift to inside centre with Jacobs on his outside.
So, if the majority of the Tri-Nations winning squad picks itself and is likely to feature in the Test matches next month, who will be the newcomers to the squad for the “midweek” games?
At fullback, Zane Kirchner certainly deserves to tour, but so, too, does Western Province’s Joe Pietersen, who’s had an outstanding season and can play fullback, wing, centre and flyhalf. His goal-kicking isn’t too shabby either. Griquas star Riaan Viljoen also has an outside chance of getting the nod.
Among the wings, the Lions’ Dusty Noble has shown he’s a classy finisher, while Bjorn Basson of Griquas can learn plenty on a tour such as this. The same goes for Cheetahs star Lionel Mapoe.
At centre, young Western Province player Juan de Jongh is believed to have impressed De Villiers immensely this year, while Sharks powerhouse Riaan Swanepoel has also caught the eye. Meyer Bosman of the Cheetahs could also be a surprise call-up.
Besides Steyn and Pienaar, who may alternate at flyhalf, there are no other No 10s in South Africa who have been consistently good enough to warrant a spot on the plane.
Naas Olivier has been the best of an average bunch, but it’s doubtful De Villiers will look his way.
With the Lions’ Jano Vermaak sadly injured, the door may open for scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius to get a chance at a higher level, while his teammate at Griquas this season, Jonathan Mokuena, may also get a call-up. But so deep is the talent pool among the loose-forwards it’s anyone’s guess who De Villiers might select.
Besides Mokuena, any one of the following players could tour: Willem Alberts, Duane Vermeulen, Jean Deysel, Francois Louw, Dewald Potgieter, Rohan Kitshoff and Ashley Johnson.
Newcomers among the locks may include David de Villiers, Anton van Zyl, Franco van der Merwe and Steven Sykes.
There are also several front-rankers sticking their hands up. Besides the obvious choices, the selectors can now also rope in the likes of WP Nel, Coenie Oosthuizen, Wian du Preez, Werner Kruger and, yes, even Lions rock Heinke van der Merwe. The young loosehead has missed the Currie Cup season due to injury, but is believed to be back to full fitness after weeks of strength training.
At hooker, Bandise Maku may get a call-up, as might Tiaan Liebenberg and, if fit, the Cheetahs’ Adriaan Strauss.
So, in all, there’s no reason why De Villiers and Co will not assemble a squad good enough to win all five matches on tour.
The 37-man squad will be named next Saturday evening and may look like this:
Backs: Zane Kirchner, Joe Pietersen, Bryan Habana, JP Pietersen, Lionel Mapoe, Dusty Noble, Odwa Ndungane, Jaque Fourie, Adrian Jacobs, Juan de Jongh, Wynand Olivier, Riaan Swanepoel, Ruan Pien- aar, Morne Steyn, Fourie du Preez, Ricky Januarie, Sarel Pretorius
Forwards: Pierre Spies, Schalk Burger, Heinrich Brussow, Danie Rossouw, Ashley Johnson, Jean Deysel, Dewald Potgieter, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Andries Bekker, David de Villiers, Anton van Zyl, John Smit, Jannie du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira, Gurthro Steenkamp, WP Nel, Bismarck du Plessis, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Bandise Maku.