Much has been said about factors that may influence Heyneke Meyer’s squad selection for IRB RWC 2015, with injuries and experience being the two major discussion points, and quotas added recently.
The thinking changed after the shock defeat against Argentina in Durban. Sadly though, this outcome was not the players’ fault – they were exhausted after a week of gruelling training, and could not perform at their optimum level. This should not cause a retreat to conservative rugby.
After the loss in Durban, the heady excitement of the attacking game plan against Australia and New Zealand, which both ended in close losses for the Boks, evaporated. A more conservative approach saw the side deliver a far more satisfying performance in the last match in Buenos Aires, and this may very well influence Meyer’s thinking when choosing a squad who can deliver his game plan.
Think for instance of the loose forwards – three months ago it was a given that the names of Vermeulen, Louw and Alberts would be entered in ink on the team sheet. After sterling performances by Schalk Burger, Heinrich Brüssow and Marcel Coetzee, Heyneke may be reaching for the Tippex. In my view, Pieter-Steph du Toit should not be considered as a loosie at this stage, especially as he is only just returning after a long injury lay-off. He does this job from the lock position any way, and we have seen too many careers damaged by playing people out of position.
Another factor to consider is that the matches in the first round will be played on soccer pitches which are apparently much faster than, for instance, Twickenham. Do you want big, lumbering loose forwards, or the mobility of the last three mentioned above? It could, of course, also allow more time for Vermeulen and Louw to regain match fitness as replacements before being selected for the slower pitches later.
A more conservative approach could possibly also see Lambie (or Morné Steyn) being picked before Pollard in the starting line-up. Steyn (if selected for the squad) needs game time before the more serious matches are played, while Lambie, too, did not play much rugby as a result of injuries this year.
Another factor is the selection of Fourie du Preez. At his best, he relieves so much pressure on the flyhalf, but will he be at his best? His kicking skills and decision making is so important for the Springboks, but is it still at the required international level?
Despite Meyer being regarded as conservative in his selections, there is always a wild card or two in any squad. I would pick Lwazi Mvovo ahead of JP Pietersen on the wing. Mvovo has the added benefit of being a more than useful fullback, and is far more involved in the game in general than Pietersen, who appears to wait for opportunities to come his way.
Francois Hougaard is the best scrumhalf in the country at the moment, and has 38 matches for the Boks to his credit. Will his omission from the Bok squad count against him? It should not.
Just a closing thought on the selection of injured players – would it not make more sense to leave those in doubt behind to play in the Currie Cup and regain match fitness, than to gamble on them recovering in time? There will be injuries during the competition which will necessitate replacements.
It makes a lot more sense to work with what you know, than what you hope for.