Meyer to show his World Cup hand
On Saturday Heyneke Meyer will give the first indication of which foreign-based players will feature in the World Cup.
Meyer is set to name his squad to play a World XV at Newlands on July 11 – with Jean de Villiers set to make his comeback from injury, most likely off the bench.
But it will also be the first opportunity for the foreign-based players to re-introduce themselves to the local lads.
The incumbent Springbok captain, De Villiers, dislocated his patella in the South Africa's 6-12 loss to Wales in Cardiff at the end of November last year and had to undergo reconstructive knee surgery.
If his rehabilitation goes according to schedule, the Springbok captain will play his first proper match in eight months in a Currie Cup warm-up clash for Western Province against the Pumas in Franschoek on July 18.
Province then travel to Port Elizabeth a week later for another friendly against the Kings, where De Villiers is also expected to feature.
However, before that De Villiers is set to play for the Springboks in the World XV clash at Newlands.
There are plenty of South Africans plying their trade overseas and of course some of them could and will be selected in the 31-man squad come Saturday.
However, none of them have featured at the recent Springbok training camps.
Japan-bound former Stormers coach Allister Coetzee recently spilled the beans that Jaque Fourie has made himself available for Springbok selection from Japan.
It is a move that could solve Meyer's headaches at outside centre.
However, the question that remains is if he will be off the pace, having played in an inferior Japanese league, and currently being on holiday?
Another vastly experienced player also lacking quality game-time is scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, who operates for Japanese club Suntory.
Du Preez played no part in the Springbok training camps and is currently not playing at all, although, he has been in the country since March.
Changing continents to Europe, Francois Louw is surely a definite in Meyer's squad – after consistently performing in top-level competitions like the Premiership and the European Champions Cup.
Others that are likely to feature in the Meyer's group from Europe are Ulster's Ruan Pienaar and Toulon's Bryan Habana.
There are also outside chances for the likes of Johann Goosen, who toured with the Boks at the end of last year, Ashley Johnson, who helped steer Wasps to the play-off stage of the Champions Cup, and Schalk Brits from Saracens, who has been in the Bok mix before.
Looking on home soil there is fierce competition for places in the Springbok squad.
In the front row there are some serious selection decisions to be made.
The over-played, tired Jannie du Plessis is the incumbent tighthead. However, he does have the most experience by far with 62 caps. The obvious contender for the No.3 jersey is Frans Malherbe. Third choice has to be Trevor Nyakane for his scrummaging and ability to turn over ball on the ground.
On the loosehead side you cannot overlook Steven Kitshoff, after performing week in week out for the Stormers. Kitshoff, Tendai Mtawarira and Coenie Oosthuizen, coming off the bench as an impact player. However, Kitshoff could be overlooked by Meyer if he only takes five props.
Hooker selects itself – with Bismarck du Plessis the starting No.2 and Adriaan Strauss as a back-up. The third choice is not so easy and there are not many options. From a transformation perspective Bongi Mbonambe and Siyabonga Ntubeni are definite candidates, otherwise Brits would be the one.
Sticking in the engine-room the Springbok locks have been plagued by injury this season – with Lodewyk de Jager missing almost the entire Super Rugby season and Pieter-Steph du Toit not having played a game in months. Both are in a race against time to be fit for the World Cup.
Victor Matfield will, without a doubt, be included in the squad. He makes the line-out tick and has been one of the stand-out No.5s this Super Rugby season. Eben Etzebeth will play the enforcing role and likely start alongside Matfield in the Rugby Championship.
That leaves two places open for lock cover (One will most likely be a loose forward that can cover at lock) and out of the current crop from the Springbok training camps it will be between Du Toit, De Jager or Jacques du Plessis with the latter doubtful to cut the mustard.
Loose forwards are not so easy to select, even with No.8 and No.6 obvious selections – Louw and Duane Vermeulen surely get those jerseys. We all know Meyer loves his big loose forwards and Willem Alberts has got one hand on the No.7 jersey.
Unfortunately that mentality will rule out Heinrich Brussow. Meyer has also excluded Jaco Kriel from the Springbok wider training squad, so those expecting to see him there are likely to be disappointed.
Schalk Burger has been in revitalised form since his return from Japan, add his versatility and experience to that he will be picked as a loose forward. One of the loose forwards must be able to cover at lock, which Alberts can do, but so can Teboho Mohoje who played both home games in the Rugby Championship last year.
Siya Kolisi, Warren Whiteley and Marcell Coetzee are the other options as loose forward cover. Coetzee as backup to Louw, Burger as backup to Alberts and Vermeulen (if necessary) and Kolisi who provides cover at No.7 and No.6. That means that Whiteley and Mohoje miss the cut.
Nizaam Carr is just too far down the pecking order.
Moving to the backline, scrumhalf is always an interesting one with Francois Hougaard providing cover while playing on the wing. Du Preez, although hasn't played in a while, will start at No.9 against the World XV as a test to see if he still has it. Pienaar is an obvious back-up especially as Cobus Reinach is injured and out of form. If Meyer does select a third scrumhalf plus Hougaard then Reinach should crack the nod, however Jano Vermaak is returning to South Africa for a shot at the squad and might just have something to prove come Currie Cup time.
At flyhalf let’s hope Meyer has his ducks in a row and selects Pat Lambie at flyhalf. His decision making is superior to Handré Pollard and has enough experience. That being said, Pollard could also be a solid choice. If Meyer selects a third flyhalf it has to be between Elton Jantjies who has been in form and exciting, and More Steyn who has been playing well in France. Steyn is the likely candidate here.
In the midfield one name that screams out is Damien de Allende. It is really a no-brainer to select him based on his current form, skill and strength. He is a threat and must be played. De Villiers, if fit, will be picked along with Jan Serfontein who has proved his worth as a Springbok. Then there is Fourie who has thrown his name in the mix at a late notice as a specialist No.13. However you can't rule out the other specialist No.13 Lionel Mapoe who has put his hand up in Super Rugby. Players that will miss out will be Juan de Jongh, Francois Steyn (unavailable) and probably Mapoe as well.
The wings are less tricky to select. Habana is sure to wear the No.11 jersey while the right wing position should be contested between JP Pietersen, Francois Hougaard and Cornal Hendricks. We can't forget Seabelo Senatla who toured with the Boks at the end of last year, as well as Lwazi Mvovo who has Springbok experience. One guy who has been in awesome form for the Lions is Ruan Combrinck but national colours is a bridge too far at this stage. Meyer will probably go with Habana, Hougaard, Hendricks and Pietersen as wings. Mvovo will be unlucky if he misses out.
Fullback is less of a conundrum as Willie le Roux is the only real contender here with Lambie as cover. Although many people are talking up young prodigy Jesse Kriel as a possible back-up. Of course Johann Goosen is an option at the back as well and he was part of the Boks touring squad that went to Europe at the end of last year. Zane Kirchner, the Leinsterman, has an outside shot especially after his brilliant solo effort try for the Barbarians not so long ago.
Predicted Springbok Squad:
Forwards: Tendai Mtawarira, Jannie du Plessis, Frans Malherbe, Trevor Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen, Bismarck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Siyabonga Ntubeni, Victor Matfield, Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Francois Louw, Willem Alberts, Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Burger, Marcell Coetzee, Siya Kolisi.
Backs: Fourie du Preez, Ruan Pienaar, Pat Lambie, Handré Pollard, Morne Steyn, Damien de Allende, Jean de Villiers, Jan Serfontein, Jacque Fourie, JP Pietersen, Cornal Hendricks, Bryan Habana, Francois Hougaard, Willie le Roux.
By Andrew Duncan