Finding Bok numbers 16 to 30

Keo, in his News 24 column, writes that Bulls coach Heyneke Meyer is 100% correct when he says South African rugby is in trouble, but Springbok rugby is still healthy.

Meyer, speaking to the Rapport newspaper, was reflecting on the Super 14 woes of South African teams and comparing the country’s leading 150 players to the New Zealand equivalent. That looks like a horror story if you are South African, but when it comes to Test rugby, only 15 can start against 15 and only 22 can get a shot at being part of that 15 on any given Test match day.

When Graham Henry finally settles on his 15, there is very little to scare Jake White’s best 15. The problem comes when White starts losing some of his best 15, whereas Henry’s complication comes when he starts losing some of his top 35.

That is the march New Zealand has stolen on its rivals in the build-up to the 2007 World Cup. South Africa, Australia, France and England all comfortably have 22 to 25 Test players. New Zealand now have 35.

White’s challenge this year is to grow his number from 22 to 30 and the only way he is going to achieve that is to give exposure to first and second tier players.

We know the All Blacks will use a squad of 39 to 40 players in their first five Tests and we can expect White to follow a similar path with the Boks. It is inevitable and it in no way cheapens Bok selection.

White’s consistency in selection is commendable but it can also be suicidal if he does not test the depth available to him.

My understanding is he will alternate and mix and match his squads in the Tests against Scotland and France, before settling on two squads for the extended Tri-Nations.

It won’t be a first and second team, but more a combination of one and two, with the odd match featuring the preferred World Cup run on XV.

If you want to feel sorry for yourself as an SA rugby supporter, then continue to follow the Cats and Stormers. If you want a bit of cheer, then start making your own selections about a Bok team.

Even in the Cats debacle against the Sharks, Bok utility back Jaque Fourie was the most impressive back on show. Already there is a Bok positive from the calamity Cats.

In the Cheetahs road show, the doom of defeat is a Bok victory for Os du Randt. The veteran front rower has played more Super 14 than anyone expected and been as good as ever.

The Sharks quartet of BJ Botha, John Smit, AJ Venter and Ruan Pienaar have been imposing, while there have been enough cameos from Schalk Burger, Jean de Villiers, Pedrie Wannenburg, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Juan Smith, Fourie du Preez, Bryan Habana and Percy Montgomery to give every Bok supporter comfort.

Where you have reason to feel twitchy is if you go outside of the Bok match 22.

What can White offer up as an alternative to Monty? Is Johan Roets good enough? Is Brent Russell an option? What of Conrad Jantjes and the Sharks youngster JP Pietersen?

On the wings, Ashwin Willemse is gone, so we are back to Breyton Paulse and Habana. What follows? Fourie as a winger? The Ndungane twins?

The centre combination of De Villiers and Fourie is the best in this country and among the best in the world. If they aren’t there does Wayne Julies, De Wet Barry, Wynand Oliver and Marius Joubert give you the same sense of comfort?

Flyhalf is a problem. Jaco van der Westhuyzen, Andre Pretorius and Meyer Bosman are the three in possession. None is a Dan Carter or even a Luke McAlister or a Nick Evans.

Halfback is the one area where the Boks are strong, so too loose-forward, but with no Bakkies and Victor at lock are Albert van den Berg, Danie Rossouw, Ross Skeate, Johan Muller and Andries Bekker good enough to win us a Test against Scotland and France?

Botha, as a tighthead, has warmed the hearts of the selectors, but who is the go to man at loosehead now that Gurthro Steenkamp is also gone for the season?

And finally who takes over from Smittie as hooker? Do you entrust Gary Botha and do you continue to back Hanyani Shimange at the expense of Schalk Brits?

I know that Du Randt, (Bakkies Botha), Matfield, De Villiers, Fourie and possibly Habana would challenge for a place in Henry’s best All Black XV. That’s the good news. However, some players being spoken of as possible Bok contenders would struggle to make a New Zealand Super 14 team. That’s the bad news.

When 15 plays 15, the Boks will always have a chance, no matter who they play. The challenge this season is for numbers 16 to 30 to be as competitive.