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Are Meyer's hands tied?

Although he would have learned a lot in recent weeks, how many changes can we expect to see in Heyneke Meyer's Rugby Championship squad?

The Bok coach will reveal his squad on Saturday after the Super Rugby Final, and faces some big selection decisions in key positions given the differing fortunes of the major contenders in the last few weeks.

Meyer made it clear from the outset that the squad he picked to face England in June was selected with the unique pressures of that specific series in mind.

The limited time available to train together and familiarise themselves with his gameplan meant that established combinations were largely the order of the day, whilst the focus was obviously the specific challenges that England would present as opponents.

With five weeks of Super Rugby action behind us since the Boks finished the series against England with a frustrating draw in Port Elizabeth, Meyer has had plenty to consider as player form and the demands of the Rugby Championship will have weighed heavily on his mind.

There have been a few Bok incumbents who have been significantly below their best form, but it is hard to see too many of them dropping out of the frame altogether given the lack of realistic challengers.

A perfect example of this is the Bulls halfback pairing of Francois Hougaard and Morné Steyn who have struggled to assert themselves at Super Rugby level, but is there really a case for leaving them out of the match-day squad for the first Test against Argentina at Newlands?

There is an alarming lack of depth at scrumhalf in South Africa at the moment and Hougaard's main rival for the starting berth should be Ruan Pienaar who has not played since the last Test against England, so it is tough to see him losing his spot.

At flyhalf Steyn could well be given the chance to redeem himself simply because of a lack of serious contenders for his position.

Peter Grant looked rattled in the Super Rugby semifinal against the Sharks which cast serious doubt on his ability to step up at Test level and Elton Jantjies remains an outside bet to start for the Boks just yet, whilst Pat Lambie will be sorely needed at fullback.

There are many, including Sharks coach John Plumtree, who believe that Lambie's future is at flyhalf, but he is more likely to play at fullback for the majority of his Test career. Given the expected rise of Johan Goosen as Bok playmaker and the lack of Test-quality fullbacks in South Africa at the moment Lambie can probably expect to spend more time in the Green and Gold No.15 jersey than any other.

In the pack the player who will probably come under the most intense scrutiny is Bulls captain Pierre Spies who could well drop out of contention altogether.

Meyer has made no secret of his admiration for Ryan Kankowski, and the Sharks No.8 has backed that up emphatically with some stirring performances in the Sharks' charge to the Super Rugby Final. At the same time, Spies ended the Super Rugby season on a low – both personally and as his team was bundled out by the Crusaders.

With the rest of the Sharks' loose 'quartet' also in sublime form, Spies could well lose out to a player like Keegan Daniel who offers more options from the bench given his ability to slot in at openside flank.

The only possible change to the tight five could see fit-again lock Andries Bekker come into the mix, although this is only likely to cost Flip van der Merwe his spot on the bench rather than dislodge Juandre Kruger or Eben Etzebeth as starters.

What is worrying, however, is that there is obvious back-up to Jannie du Plessis at tighthead prop – the loss of Coenie Oosthuizen also robbing the coach of an impact player in every sense of the term.

With the incumbent front row, flanks, centres and wings all in good recent form it is hard to see Meyer tinkering too much with those combinations, and given the lack of options in the 'problem areas' those who are hoping that the Bok coach will wield his axe and make drastic changes for the Rugby Championship are likely to be disappointed.

By Michael de Vries

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