The announcement of the Springbok squad for the incoming series was generally well received by rugby lovers. Heyneke Meyer blended experience and youth, using Super 15 form, to produce an excellent combination of players who infuse confidence in their supporters.
I spent quite a bit of time reading comments to reports in the media. Regrettably, the idiots outnumber the sensible by a considerable margin. Most of the questions asked concerned the inclusion of Zane Kirchner and Ruan Pienaar. Very few people follow rugby in Ireland; how they can criticise the inclusion of Pienaar, is beyond my understanding. Kirchner is the incumbent fullback, and to replace him in international rugby with someone who may appear better at Super 15 level, could spell disaster. As it is, there are at least two other full backs in the squad – three actually, if you include Pienaar.
One concern that I do have, is the selection of people able to cover a variety of positions. The New Zealand cricket team contains many all-rounders, yet they seldom shape up against teams containing specialists (barring SA in the World Cup, of course). It is all well and true if a crisis occurs, but players like the very same Ruan Pienaar, and, to a lesser degree, Francois Hougaard, battled because they played out of position so often.
When I think of a player who could possibly be included, I think of Meyer’s response: If I did include him, who would I leave out? And those accusing Meyer of provincial preference, do your homework. There are 11 Bulls in the squad of 34. The series rules call for a full front row on the bench. His selection of a Cheetahs front row is vindicated by how they bullied the Bulls on Saturday.
There is very little chance of the Bulls not ending at the top of the local conference, and the Kings at the bottom. No doubt, the Cheetahs will be very determined to make the top six, and with results like the Highlanders beating the Blues happening with great regularity, there is every chance that they can make it. As far as the also-rans are concerned, the less said the better, although they could throw a spanner in the works in the remaining derbies.
Samoa fielded an under-staffed team on Saturday, but this should take nothing away from the confidence-building performance by the Lions. Just how much they suffered from not having had stiff opposition this year, and their top players playing elsewhere, will only be revealed when they face the Kings. The latter, of course, surprised all and sundry by not, bar one occasion, being thrashed or humiliated.
Test rugby will provide a most welcome break from the Super 15 action over the last few months. If we can use the series to establish combinations, and integrate the young players successfully, we would have gone a long way in preparing ourselves for the next world cup. Meyer’s long-term plan is to have a vastly experienced squad when the time arrives, and the incoming series is ideally suited for this purpose.
Silly old me, expecting you to select a team before the squad is announced. You now have until Tuesday, midnight, to let us know who you think will be the 22 players selected to represent South Africa against Italy on Saturday.