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Pragmatic Meyer plays it safe

Heyneke Meyer may have named nine uncapped players in his first Springbok squad, but closer inspection reveals that he is not interested in taking any risks against England.

While some of the unexpected names on the squad list may have raised eyebrows, an examination of the notable omissions gives more of an insight into the Springbok coach's plan for England.

There is no place for Heinrich Brussow, or any ball-foraging openside flank for that matter, which indicates that Meyer is not willing to gamble on a player that likes living on the edge of legality at the tackle.

This shows that the Springbok coach is reluctant to give away any more penalties than is absolutely necessary against England, and indicates that he will expect all players to generate turnovers when given the opportunity rather than relying on a specialist in this area.

The biggest names to miss out in the backline are the slightly-built Stormers duo of Gio Aplon and Juan de Jongh which suggests that for Meyer, size matters out wide.

All of the backs in the squad are either powerful or exceptional under the high ball which shows that their priority will be chasing kicks and putting England under pressure by forcing them onto the back foot.

This means that the Springboks will be out to suffocate England by giving nothing away and forcing them to play from their own half without much structure, which could be a shrewd approach for a team that has only trained together for one week.

One of the biggest surprises is that there are only two players in the squad – Ruan Pienaar and Frans Steyn – who have not played Super Rugby this year, but this decision also has a pragmatic edge.

Both players have been regular starters at competitive European clubs this season, so should be able to produce the intensity required at Test level, underlining the fact that there will be no time for players who have been battling injury or playing in less competitive environments like Japan to adjust or find their feet.

Meyer's goal is to put together the strongest challenge possible considering the difficult circumstances and as a result he has picked a group of players who are capable of executing a simple yet ruthless gameplan and maintaining Test match intensity until the final whistle.

While there may be outrage at dark horses that have been included and popular players that have been disregarded in this 32-man squad the focus really should be on what these selections tell us about how Meyer plans to tackle his first task on the job.

The timing of the series against England has put the Bok coach in a particularly difficult situation and he has responded by selecting a group of players to execute what he feels is the appropriate gameplan given the unique issues at play.

This may be interpreted as conservative, but it is obvious that the team will have a simple approach which values discipline and is ultimately designed to minimise risk – important factors in the Test arena.

By Michael de Vries

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