Heyneke Meyer may not be one to bow to fans’ opinions, but he’s nonetheless made some popular choices for the latest squad. He himself explains that he’s chosen players for their experience, and if they’re successful, it will hopefully make up for some of the losses suffered to injury this year. By KEN BORLAND.
Heyneke Meyer has previously said that bowing to public opinion would be akin to having fans voting for the national team, but the Springbok coach has made what will be some popular selections in the squad announced on Sunday to tour Great Britain and Ireland.
While it’s a perfectly logical squad, featuring all the players who appeared for the Springboks this year and are fit, there will be some debate, as ever, round the flyhalf position.
Meyer has predictably named all three contenders – Elton Jantjies, Morne Steyn and Pat Lambie – in the squad, and it would perhaps be best for the long-term growth of the Springboks if he spread the flyhalf duties between the trio for the three Tests against Ireland, Scotland and England.
There are five uncapped players in the 31-man squad, with lock Franco van der Merwe and scrumhalf Jano Vermaak having been round the block a few times, while outside backs Lionel Mapoe and 19-year-old Raymond Rhule have the flair and skills to be exciting additions to the Springbok backline in years to come.
Speaking of flair and skills, Meyer has decided to bring hooker-cum-part-time flank Schalk Brits in from the cold, the 31-year-old Saracens player having not represented the Springboks since 2008. The other overseas-based players in the squad are Ulster scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar, Bath flank Francois Louw and mountainous Toulouse loosehead prop Gurthrö Steenkamp.
The other uncapped player in the touring group is loose forward Arno Botha, who has been part of the Springbok squad this year.
Meyer explained his reasoning by saying: “We’ve got a settled core of players that did the job during the England series and the Rugby Championship and we decided to stick with them.
“Gurthrö and Schalk are experienced front-rankers who have played for South Africa before and know the conditions in the Northern Hemisphere. This tour provides a good opportunity to assess them as we plan ahead. Arno, Lionel, Franco and Jano have all been part of our squad earlier in the season.
“Raymond put up his hand for the Junior Boks and the Cheetahs and I’m very excited to see what he can do. It’s also great to have JP Pietersen and Chiliboy Ralepelle back from injury as they bring a lot of experience to the squad.”
Meyer will also name a 32nd squad member before the team departs for the United Kingdom on Saturday, with loose forward and outside back being the two areas where the Springboks probably currently have holes.
Captain Jean de Villiers, who missed Western Province’s run-in to the Currie Cup title with a hamstring strain, will also have to prove his fitness before departure.
The Springboks have already been hard-hit by injuries with prop Coenie Oosthuizen, hookers Bismarck du Plessis and Tiaan Liebenberg, lock Andries Bekker, loose forwards Siya Kolisi, Jacques Potgieter and Pierre Spies, flyhalf Johan Goosen, centre Frans Steyn and wing Bryan Habana all being wounded in action this year.
Flanks Schalk Burger, Juan Smith and Heinrich Brussow were all ruled out before the Springboks even stepped on to a field this year.
The injury curse got her dirty little hands into Habana over the weekend, the in-form winger leaving the field with a knee injury in the 14th minute of the Currie Cup final after Beast Mtawarira hurled him to the ground at a ruck.
On the plus side, though, Pietersen is back in the Springbok squad and will be hoping Lady Luck only has her best in store for him after he missed the entire Rugby Championship with a hand injury.
While Springbok fans have had to endure a diet of uninspired rugby and regular defeats this year, the team began to show real promise in the second half of the Rugby Championship before the brilliant All Blacks taught them a lesson in Soweto.
Weather conditions overseas may favour Meyer’s preferred conservative game plan, but there are enough exciting youngsters in the squad for more glimmers of hope to be seen.
Springbok squad – Zane Kirchner (Bulls), Pat Lambie (Sharks), JP Pietersen (Sharks), Juan de Jongh (WP), Jaco Taute (Lions), Jean de Villiers (WP), Lionel Mapoe (Lions), Lwazi Mvovo (Sharks), Raymond Rhule (FS), Elton Jantjies (Lions), Morne Steyn (Bulls), Ruan Pienaar (Ulster), Francois Hougaard (Bulls), Jano Vermaak (Bulls), Duane Vermeulen (WP), Willem Alberts (Sharks), Arno Botha (Bulls), Francois Louw (Bath), Marcell Coetzee (Sharks), Juandre Kruger (Bulls), Franco van der Merwe (Lions), Eben Etzebeth (WP), Flip van der Merwe (Bulls), Jannie du Plessis (Sharks), Pat Cilliers (Lions), CJ van der Linde (Lions), Adriaan Strauss (FS), Chiliboy Ralepelle (Bulls), Schalk Brits (Saracens), Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks), Gurthro Steenkamp (Toulouse). DM
Photo: Samoa's Kahn Fotuali'i tackles South Africa Springboks' Pat Lambie (R) during their Rugby World Cup Pool D match at North Harbour Stadium in Auckland September 30, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings