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Ticking every Bok

A year out from the World Cup there are still a few key positions giving Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer headaches.

Planning too far ahead in international rugby is tricky, as the constant threat of injury means that there will inevitably be some curve balls thrown your way and, as settled as your side may be, form has to be a major consideration ahead of a major tournament like the World Cup.

The upcoming tour of Europe, and specifically the final game against Wales which falls outside of the Test window, gives Meyer the opportunity to see how some of the newer faces in his squad fare in the same conditions at the same time of year that they will face at the World Cup next year.

This is not a call for wild experimentation – Meyer is yet to lose a game in Europe, and maintaining that perfect record would be extremely valuable heading into the World Cup.

Whilst he will be keen to grow some depth, at the same time there really is no use in wasting the momentum the Boks gained through the steady improvement they showed in the Rugby Championship this year. So expect the fringe players to be introduced selectively while keeping continuity with the core that did duty in the southern hemisphere competition this year.

The major areas of concern are the depth at tighthead prop, scrumhalf, outside centre and fullback, and this tour has the potential to uncover some meaningful answers.

Behind stalwart Jannie du Plessis there are not many South African tightheads with much Test experience.

Frans Malherbe was given an opportunity last year, but has been lost to injury this year which has given the Lions' Julian Redelinghuys a gap.

Injury-prone Coenie Oosthuizen has been given another chance to show what he can add, with Meyer adamant that although his scrummaging has not been convincing he can still be valuable in the final stages of the game when there are less set-pieces and he can make a big impact with his abilities at the breakdown and as a ball-carrier.

Redelinghuys, by contrast, is a prop who has earned his call-up through consistent dominant performances at scrum-time, so it will be interesting to see what sort of opportunity he is given – if any.

At scrumhalf there is a fight for a place in the queue behind the injured Fourie du Preez. Ruan Pienaar is back in the squad after recovering from his injury and with his suitability to Northern Hemisphere conditions is likely to start in the majority of the games on this tour.

Francois Hougaard impressed on the dry fields of Newlands and Ellis Park in the last two games of the Rugby Championship and will be keen to show he can do the same up north, whilst the explosive but fairly raw Cobus Reinach will also be looking to give Meyer something to think about.

The lack of a specialist outside centre in the touring group has been something of a concern, with Meyer revealing that Japan-based veteran Jaque Fourie is still very much in his World Cup plans.

Both Damian de Allende and Jan Serfontein wore the No.13 jersey in the Rugby Championships, whilst skipper Jean de Villiers is also comfortable one lane out from his usual post at inside centre and Meyer has also made it clear that he has confidence in JP Pietersen as a midfielder.

The last potential problem area in terms of depth is at fullback, a position which Willie le Roux has made his own without much competition.

Meyer has always fancied Pat Lambie as a fullback, and his utility value will probably see him claim a few more caps from the bench.

The other option in the squad is another flyhalf with Meyer throwing Johan Goosen another lifeline to resurrect his stuttering career.

The Springboks' year-end tour will be revealing on a number of fronts, but perhaps the most significant will be how Meyer approaches his selections in these four positions.

Hopefully by the end of the month the Bok coach will have more answers than questions regarding those who he can count on in those areas.

By Michael de Vries




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