The South African Rugby Union (SARU) confirmed on Friday that a group of 17 players were contracted for the 2014 Springbok season.
The seven newly-contracted players are Marcell Coetzee (loose forward), JJ Engelbrecht (centre/wing), Francois Hougaard (scrumhalf), Patrick Lambie (flyhalf/fullback), Willie le Roux (fullback/wing), Coenie Oosthuizen (prop) and Flip van der Merwe (lock).
While the last four comes as no surprise, media eyebrows were raised about the first three.
Eight players were contracted in 2013: 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). In addition, JP Pietersen signed a national contract for 2015.
“The core group of Springboks are now nationally contracted, which bodes well for the next two seasons as we step up preparations for the Rugby World Cup in England in 2015”, said Jurie Roux, CEO of SARU.
No doubt there will be criticism. One article I read questioned the omission of Pieter-Steph du Toit. Could it have something to do with the possible return of Victor Matfield?
Rob Houwing provides an interesting perspective on this:
Let’s not forget that if veteran lineout great Matfield is, indeed, serious about a comeback at the age of 36, he will supposedly be eased gradually back into first-class activity by the Bulls.
Fifteen years his junior at 21, Du Toit requires less conservatism in game-time management — and should try to use that to his advantage as he seeks to convince Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer that he is the man for the No 5 jersey, possibly as early as this season.
There is no question that Meyer, so familiar with Matfield’s skills and strategic acumen over the course of many years at Loftus, will monitor the iconic athlete’s return with no lack of interest, bearing the 2015 World Cup in mind and the wish to balance his second-row resources – both at number 4 and 5 – between youth and gnarly experience.
But at the same time, he has made no secret of his admiration for the two-metre, 115kg Du Toit, right from the beginning of his tenure as Bok mastermind in mid-2012.
Meyer’s understandable fear is that if he partners the Sharks rookie with almost as young Eben Etzebeth (22), the Bok lock department will undoubtedly have a raw look to it.
A counter to that view, of course, is that if Etzebeth could make such enormous strides in the enforcer/front-jumper berth, why shouldn’t also Du Toit, if given a proper crack at No 5?
In addition, the quicker this potentially exciting alliance is established, the more equipped they will be to shine as a combo at the UK-staged World Cup.
While Matfield isn’t the only possible rival candidate to the emerging Du Toit for No 5 in Tests – Flip van der Merwe did well there on the triumphant European tour of 2013, though really remains more suited to four – his legend is such that the Sharks youngster will find it impossible to eliminate the selection threat posed by him from his mind.
The end of the year tour last year highlighted the gamble a coach takes when recalling players who have been out of the fold for some time. While Bakkies Botha was a revelation, and an inspiration to the younger players, Jaque Fourie did not warrant his inclusion at all. This may have played a part in the fact that JJ Engelbrecht appeared to lose confidence.
Who else do you think needs to be in the squad, and who is lucky to be there?