MARK KEOHANE, in his Business Day column, says the Springbok side for the first Test against England pretty much picks itself.
Given the injury situation, Fourie du Preez is the obvious choice to captain the Springboks against England.
Heyneke Meyer has always been emphatic that his captain will be a player he trusts, a player who makes the starting XV, and a player who will give him comfort as he eases his way through his first international head coaching experience.
Meyer has trusted his gut and he should never waver from this. So many coaches have compromised, tried to please a certain province, a certain media or a certain sector of the public, failed and regretted not doing it their way. I hope Meyer stays true to his gut feeling on what represents a match 22 good enough to win without much coaching in the Test opener against England in Durban.
Meyer would have had three training sessions with the match 22 before that first Test. To pick a bunch of young guns would be a recipe for disaster. A coach builds over four years, not in his first week.
Some will argue that Meyer’s selection will be biased and favour the Bulls. Others will argue that it is a conservative selection and some will never be pleased because of his history with the Bulls. I see any selection Meyer makes, based on his comments to the media and several discussions with him in recent months, as the most logical to see off an England challenge that will be dangerous in the first Test but should get easier as the series progresses.
Injuries have ensured Meyer’s ideal XV won’t start and he may well find his ideal XV never starts in the next four years. He won’t be the first Bok coach to experience that kind of frustration. He won’t be the last.
Crucial to the first Test will be the performance of Bismarck du Plessis, Pierre Spies and Willem Alberts. If these experienced players show the necessary application, attitude, physicality and brutality, there will be enough of a platform to fashion a victory.
I am not expecting anything but a workmanlike display in the first Test, with an emphasis on protecting the ball, playing field percentages and attacking the defensive vulnerability of England’s halfback pairing, who ooze talent but aren’t blessed with natural physicality.
I don’t rate England a top-five side. I think their struggle against physical packs like those of Scotland and Italy is more indicative of their limitations than the smashing of an Irish team that lacked the oomph up front to threaten at Twickenham.
SA will produce a decent pack, which will get stronger once internationals like Schalk Burger and Juan Smith return.
Du Preez, given the lack of Test match experience among the forwards, was an obvious choice to calm the nerves and implement a percentages match against England.
The side, on form, pretty much selects itself. Morné Steyn has done more than enough to play the master tactician at flyhalf and while he will always have a defensive issue at Test level it has seldom been exposed because so few teams dominate the Boks physically.
Frans Steyn and Jean de Villiers are formidable in the midfield and Meyer won’t look beyond the experience of Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen on the wings. As the international season unfolds he will tweak in areas like the back three and there will be more of an integration of new faces than a discarding of the old.
Meyer has been consistent that 2012 is about winning Tests and building a winning culture. He will think about 2015 in 2015 and if his selections have been consistent between now and the next World Cup, it will be a squad that rewards form, youth and experience that arrives in England with conviction and not just the hope that came with the reputation of those who failed in New Zealand last year.
I’d start with Pat Lambie at fullback, but Meyer may feel pressured to pick Zane Kirchner because of a lack of black representation in his match 22. It’s an awful situation because Kirchner has played well enough to be picked on merit, as have Juan de Jongh and Chiliboy Ralepelle. But others, who just happen to be white, have also played at a standard that makes a healthy case for inclusion.
Meyer will be a bundle of nerves in his first Test and that is why Du Preez and De Villiers, more than any other players, will be more influential and instrumental in Durban than any of the coaching staff.
Meyer has been very clear that in the first Test he wants to be judged on the win and that the style of play will evolve over the season. Again, it is the most logical of statements that deserves the most logical of acknowledgment from the country’s fanatical support base.