RYAN VREDE writes that any positional alterations the Springboks make in the coming weeks must be with a longer term plan in mind.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has consistently spoken about not making emotionally-driven selections. He has, however, also stressed that he will give a player two chances to fail before cutting them. This ruthless rhetoric hasn’t been backed up with action.
It was always going to be difficult for Meyer to meet that standard given the string of injuries to key senior and back up players. His resources across most positions are thin. Besides this, some players demand a greater degree of faith than others, provided they have previously been successful in their positions.
Morné Steyn benefited from such faith in 2011 under Peter de Villiers and now with Meyer. There are mitigating factors for his poor form, but none strong enough to justify his continued selection. The return to fitness of Johan Goosen has offered Meyer an alternative to Steyn at flyhalf. Pat Lambie represents another option there, as well as at fullback, where Zane Kirchner’s aptitude for Test rugby has yet to be established. Like Steyn, there is a strong sense that his time is up.
In Francois Louw Meyer gains a player who is a perfect fit for his ideal of what an opensider should be. Meyer has maintained that he cannot accommodate a specialist breakdown scavenger, stressing that he has to be a competent ball-carrier as well. Louw has proven his capacity in both disciplines with the Springboks and Stormers in Super Rugby (before he moved to Bath in late 2011). Given the Springboks’ struggle to manage the tempo and flow of the opposition’s attacks throughout the Rugby Championship (or indeed to profit from attacking unset defensive lines from turnover ball), it is imperative that they strengthen their cause in this regard with Louw’s inclusion.
I also feel there needs to be an investment in Andries Bekker at No 5 lock. Expectations were high for Bekker when he first emerged. It was thought he would be the natural successor to Victor Matfield, a billing he has failed to realise. His inconsistency as a starter in 2012 has been deeply frustrating and there is some concern among the Springboks’ coaching staff that he doesn’t have the temperament to excel in high pressure situations. He, however, remains a player with the ability to stir genuine concern in the opposition’s lineout unit through his presence alone. He needs to greatly improve his general play and devote more time to his analysis of defensive lineout situations. Meyer also needs to panelbeat his mind. But in the absence of any better options, Bekker must be developed.
Ruan Pienaar is in the position to establish himself at scrumhalf after years of living in Fourie du Preez and Ricky Januarie’s shadows. Like Bekker, his mental toughness when the heat is applied concerns Meyer, but he needs to be given the opportunity to prove that his time in Ireland with Munster has refined him in this regard.
Whatever changes are made this week or thereafter need to be made with a clear vision in mind. They cannot be a reaction to public and media pressure – moves designed to appease those parties. Similarly if Meyer opts to stick with the incumbents, he must do so with unwavering conviction, playing them in the home Tests as well and maintaining belief in their ability to successfully execute their tactical directives.