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On the outside looking in

There are just three contracted and eligible Springboks that did not make it into Heyneke Meyer's squad for the Rugby Championship.

With much fuss made this week over the involvement of contracted Springboks in the Currie Cup it is interesting to note which players will have to use the domestic competition to force their way back into the Bok selection frame.

There are just 17 Springboks contracted for 2014, and 11 of them are in the Rugby Championship squad that was announced at the weekend – with Flip van der Merwe out through injury, JP Pietersen currently committed to his Japanese club and Frans Steyn not available due to a dispute with SARU.

That leaves just three players – Siya Kolisi, Coenie Oosthuizen and JJ Engelbrecht – who have been overlooked by Meyer due to their lack of form.

Oosthuizen is the player that featured most recently for the Boks, starting at tighthead prop in their demolition of Scotland in Port Elizabeth in June, but with the return of Frans Malherbe he has since been cast aside.

The Cheetahs front row forward was a tighthead at school, but started his professional career as a loosehead – which gave him the opportunity to make the most of his ball-carrying and breakdown skills.

He has since tried to revert back to the tighthead side, a move that had Meyer's full support – with Oosthuizen making his Test debut as a replacement for Jannie du Plessis in the Bok coach's first game in charge, against England in Durban back in 2012.

However, he has battled with consistency in the position ever since, with his stability at scrum-time a major concern, whilst ongoing neck injuries have made it even tougher for him to build form and make the position his own.

Kolisi is another player whose game seems to have suffered from switching from one side of the scrum to the other. He started out as a blindside flank, but is viewed solely as an openside option by Meyer and has never really managed to settle and make one his own.

When asked, Kolisi unfailingly says that he will play wherever he is picked, but the chopping and changing has seemed to have had a negative impact on his game nonetheless, as his form took a bit of a nosedive this year.

The Stormers man made his Test debut a year ago, winning the man of the match award in a star performance off the bench, but he spent the majority of the Super Rugby season riding the pine – with Nizaam Carr preferred in the No.6 jersey and Schalk Burger back at blindside for the Stormers.

The last contracted outsider is Engelbrecht, who has also played in more than one position in his short career, starting out as a wing for the Stormers and converting to outside centre after his move to the Bulls.

He is another player who was in Meyer's first Springbok squad, and got an extended run in the position over the last two years, but will be watching the Rugby Championship on his couch – with captain Jean de Villiers, the uncapped Damian de Allende and his Bulls centre partner Jan Serfontein the only players in the squad who are specialists in his position.

It will be interesting to see how Meyer juggles his three centres – who are all primarily No. 12s, with De Villiers' experience likely to see him back in the No.13 jersey.

The one thing all three of these outsiders have in common is that they have been tried in a few different positions without really settling, and they will also all have something to prove in the opening rounds of the Currie Cup – or else run the risk of losing their Springbok contracts at the end of the year.

Contracted Springboks for 2014:  Willem Alberts, Jean de Villiers, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Tendai Mtawarira, Frans Steyn, Adriaan Strauss, Duane Vermeulen, Marcell Coetzee, JJ Engelbrecht, Francois Hougaard, Patrick Lambie, Willie le Roux, Coenie Oosthuizen, Flip van der Merwe, JP Pietersen.

Springbok Rugby Championship squad: Willem Alberts, Bakkies Botha, Schalk Brits, Marcell Coetzee, Damian De Allende, Lodewyk de Jager, Jean de Villiers (captain), Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Eben Etzebeth, Bryan Habana, Cornal Hendricks, Francois Hougaard, Patrick Lambie, Willie le Roux, Francois Louw, Frans Malherbe, Victor Matfield, Teboho Mohoje, Tendai Mtawarira, Lwazi Mvovo, Trevor Nyakane, Ruan Pienaar, Handré Pollard, Cobus Reinach, Jan Serfontein, Gurthrö Steenkamp, Morné Steyn, Adriaan Strauss, Duane Vermeulen.

By Michael de Vries

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