RYAN VREDE ignores the Springboks’ media spin and analyses which of the dirt-trackers really have a chance of going to the World Cup.
Springbok coach Peter de Villiers has stressed that members of his 28-man touring squad have a shot of making the final cut for the trip to New Zealand. This is not the case. There are only a handful of places up for grabs, potentially as little as two, with the versatility of some players likely to crush the dreams of others.
Of the group who will miss the Tri-Nations through ‘injury’, only Francois Louw, whose involvement at the showpiece depends on how injury-plagued flanker Heinrich Brüssow holds up in a match situation, and Duane Vermeulen, whose chances of breaking into the squad appear to be over after a unfortunate injury sustained in Super Rugby, aren’t certain of being in the 30 tasked with defending the title.
It is widely known that John Smit will captain the team and be the first choice hooker at the World Cup. Smit makes the trip to Australasia because De Villiers believes he needs game time in the position after a Super Rugby campaign spent rotating between hooker, prop and the bench.
Chiliboy Ralepelle is also assured a place in the squad as the third hooker. The Bulls No 2 has been a consistent pick for De Villiers throughout his tenure, even though he has offered him precious little game time across 18 Tests. Ralepelle’s inclusion means Adriaan Strauss won’t go.
Butch James will be the Springboks’ premier flyhalf, with Morne Steyn as his back-up. There are numerous options to cover that duo, Pat Lambie and Ruan Pienaar the most notable of those. Both men will make the cut, eliminating Elton Jantjies, while Pienaar’s inclusion will also dash whatever hope Charl McLeod had.
Frans Steyn, Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen will front as the preferred back three, but Gio Aplon’s game breaking ability will see him included to cover wing and fullback.
The versatility within the group of backs assured of a place means wingers Bjorn Basson, Odwa Ndungane and Lwazi Mvovo, as well as midfielders Wynand Olivier and Adrian Jacobs won’t go. Neither of the latter two have a stronger case for inclusion than Juan de Jongh as the third specialist centre, with Frans Steyn and Lambie also able to cover the position.
Whether props CJ van der Linde, Werner Kruger, Dean Greyling or Coenie Oosthuizen go depends almost entirely when De Villiers’ willingness to use Smit to cover loosehead or tighthead in case of emergency. He has stated emphatically that he believes Smit is best suited to hooker, but conceded he was open to the possibility of using him at prop if required to in event of his first choice picks sustaining injuries.
Danie Rossouw’s positional adaptability gives the selectors options when deciding on the constitution of their squad. He covers lock, blindside flank and No 8. Of the prospective second row deputies, I suspect Alistair Hargreaves will be cut, with Flip van der Merwe and Johann Muller duelling for one lock spot. Muller’s experience could count in his favour here.
De Villiers has consistently made the point of telling the media that Brüssow is a player you build a team around. He will go to the World Cup if he makes it through the Tri-Nations without a recurrence of the injuries that have sidelined him. Deon Stegmann will watch the tournament from the comfort of his couch.
In this eventuality, Louw’s best chance of going is then if Smith fails to recover sufficiently from an Achilles injury that has kept him out of action for months. You have to imagine that having been in the group De Villiers opted to rest, the Stormers man has an edge over others who would come into consideration, like Ryan Kankowski, Jean Deysel and Ashley Johnson.
In summary, these are the members of the touring group definitely going to the World Cup: John Smit, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Morne Steyn, Ruan Pienaar, Danie Rossouw, Heinrich Brüssow. Juan de Jongh and Gio Aplon are almost certain of going.
In the weeks ahead De Villiers will peddle the rhetoric that all of his ‘B’ team charges have a fair crack at breaking into the final squad. But don’t buy it. The 30 are unlikely to look very different to this: Fourie du Preez, Schalk Burger, Victor Matfield, Frans Steyn, Jaque Fourie, Jean de Villiers, BJ Botha, Juan Smith, Willem Alberts, Bismarck du Plessis, Andries Bekker, Jannie du Plessis, Gurthrö Steenkamp, Francois Hougaard, Butch James, JP Pietersen, Tendai Mtawarira, Bryan Habana, Bakkies Botha, John Smit, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Morne Steyn, Ruan Pienaar, Danie Rossouw, Heinrich Brüssow, Juan de Jongh, Gio Aplon, Johann Muller, Pat Lambie, Werner Kruger.