No foreign quota for Boks
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has no limit to the number of foreign-based players he may select in his team, but those heading to Japan can kiss their Bok careers goodbye.
Meyer, speaking at the conclusion of day two of his first national squad training session in Cape Town, revealed that the attitude of Japanese clubs make it impossible to consider players plying their trade there.
It means players like Fourie du Preez, Jaque Fourie and now Andries Bekker – all still on the Bok mentor's wish-list – have effectively ruled themselves out of the selection frame.
In contrast players in Europe – like Francois Louw, Ruan Pienaar and now Juandré Kruger – are still eligible for Test selection.
Meyer, who admitted that the departure of a seasoned player like Bekker has left him with a No.5 headache, said they are working on some youngsters to fill the vacancy created as a result of the Japan situation.
"I have always been worried about the No.5 lock [position]," the Bok mentor told a media scrum.
"When Andries [Bekker] was injured, Juandré [Kruger] really came through. Andries is playing some of his best rugby now, but he is not available.
"Juandré [despite going to Racing Metro in France] will still be available to play.
"It is not an ideal situation. I was worried last year already. Players like Victor [Matfield], Johann Muller, Danie Rossouw, who could play at No.5, Bakkies [Botha] all departed – that was a substantial number of our locks that left South Africa.
"I don't think any country can afford that."
Meyer said there are a few youngsters coming through.
"The problem is that No.5 lock is your most important player in the pack, because he runs the line-outs, he runs the far side defence and he is also your main taker of kick-offs.
"While there are youngsters, it will take them two or three years to get up to where Andries is and Juandre in a sense. It is not just how they play, it is how they manage the line-outs. You need a guy who can win the line-outs, even if he is not your best player around the park – to find that balance is going to be very difficult."
When asked who the youngsters are that he has identified, the Bok coach said he spoke to a few guys that are willing to move to No.5 to fill that gap.
"Johan van Graan, who I rate as probably one of the best line-out coaches in the world – he worked with Victor [Matfield] for years – he is going to spend a lot of time with those players.
"He is sitting every night till 10pm/11pm working with those players."
Meyer revealed that they are working with the franchises to convert some players into No.5 locks.
"I have said to Johan [van Graan], I don't care if he sleeps at [Sharks lock] Pieter-Steph du Toit's house for two or three weeks, or at the Sharks, but he needs to start working with him.
"Although he [Pieter-Steph du Toit] plays like a No.4 [lock] I believe he can be one of the best No.5s ever.
"It is going to take time and I am grateful for the Sharks, they are bringing him in, even though he is only 20 years old. He is starting to call the line-outs as well.
"[Sharks loan player] Franco [van der Merwe] is also playing good rugby. The fact that he has moved [from the Lions] to the Sharks has helped him – he is playing with a great pack.
"I think we will manage [the situation at No.5], as there are one or two youngsters."
Injured Baby Bok Marvin Orie is another youngster earmarked for big things in the not too distant future.
It is a pity [he is injured], as I have known Marvin Orie since he was 16. He would have been the SA Under-20 lock and captain, but is injured now.
"He is very good in the line-outs and worked with Victor for years.
"There are youngsters, they just need time to develop."
Meyer said he was disappointed with the Japan situation.
"I always thought it would benefit us, because they would play less rugby and their season is so short they could play for South Africa as well," he told the media scrum.
"Unfortunately I didn't realise it will work out this way that they don't want their players to play. Even though there is an IRB ruling that say they must play, the players are earning good money and they don't want to lose their contracts – it is a very difficult situation.
"I still believe that guys like Fourie du Preez and Jaque Fourie can play for the Boks, we need that experience at the back and they are still world class players. It is a pity that they can't play on the end of the year tour or the June Tests.
"It would have been great to have had those players around and get the youngsters through the system.
"Johan Goosen and Jaco Taute would have benefitted so much from the likes of Fourie du Preez and Jaque Fourie – there are a lot of young backs coming through, we just need a bit of experience."
Asked about his policy toward overseas-based players, Meyer made it clear there is no limit as to the number of foreign-based players he can select.
"I have always said, if there is a 50-50 [call] I will always go for the guys in South Africa.
"You also want to keep the guys in South Africa.
"However, the way rugby is changing you have to pick your best team – the only consideration for me is if the guy rally wants to play for South Africa.
"[Bath-based openside flank] Francois Louw for me is a prime example of that.
"Flouw said from day one: 'I really want to play for the Boks, that is my dream. I left because I thought I was not in the mix anymore.'
"He changed our season last year. When he came into the Bok team, along with Duane [Vermeulen] we had two guys competing on the floor.
"Another example is Bakkies [Botha], who I believe can still play for the Boks. However, Eben [Etzebeth] was a 20-year-old, it was a 50-50, I gave Eben a chance and suddenly he is now probably the best lock in the world at No.4.
"If there is a youngster that can get a place, we will bring the youngster through.
"However, I learnt a very, very hard lesson in losing 11 out of 11 [Super 12 matches in 2002] – that is that you can't play with 22 youngsters.
"There must be a mix and where there is the likes of Bryan [Habana] available, I will be stupid not to select him."
By Jan de Koning