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Do the Boks need a No.13?

The Springboks are likely to head to the World Cup next year without a specialist outside centre, but is that such a problem?


Jaque Fourie's recent retirement from international rugby and captain Jean de Villiers' horrific knee injury means that Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer's midfield options will have to be significantly revised next year.


The two formed the most capped centre pairing in Springbok history, and many had their money on seeing them together for one last hurrah in England next year.


A look at the options available shows that outside centres are in seemingly short supply, which means that the Boks may play with two inside centres as they effectively did throughout 2014.


The players to wear the Green and Gold No.13 jersey this year were Jan Serfontein, Damian de Allende and JP Pietersen none of whom are natural outside centres, whilst the likes of Juan de Jongh and JJ Engelbrecht were overlooked.


The experience and versatility of De Villiers meant that there was a fair amount of flexibility in the Bok midfield this year as Meyer tried to get the best out of the respective strengths of the players on the pitch.


This saw Serfontein take his share of crash ball, whilst off turnovers the ball was generally shifted to Willie le Roux as quickly as possible.


But will the Bok coach have the confidence to play the relatively inexperienced Serfontein and De Allende as his first-choice centre combination heading into the World Cup? If Frans Steyn manages to sort out his contractual dispute with SARU then he could claim De Villiers' no.12 jersey just as he did at the 2007 World Cup, but that is far from certain at this stage.


A look at the other options shows that Meyer is not exactly spoilt for choice in this area. 


De Jongh is one player with Test experience who could step up, but Meyer has not given him many opportunities in the past and has preferred more physical players. 


Engelbrecht's selection in the Sevens squad shows that he has fallen right out of contention despite still being contracted, whilst none of the other contenders have any significant international experience to speak of which is not ideal with so few Tests before the World Cup.


A look at the other top Test sides suggests that a specialist outside centre is something of a must-have with Conrad Smith, Tevita Kuridrani, Manu Tuilagi, Jonathan Davies and Marcelo Bosch all key players for their respective teams.


There are no such obvious candidates for Meyer, so it will be interesting to see how things shape up in the South African conference of Super Rugby next year, with a spot in the Bok World Cup side effectively up for grabs. 


Whether Meyer decides to go with two inside centres again, convert a wing like Pietersen or Bryan Habana or turn to a specialist No.13, he will need to start grooming that player as soon as possible.


By Michael de Vries




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