RYAN VREDE writes Heyneke Meyer must resist the temptation to veer from his plan to blood more young players on the year-end tour in favour of more conservative selections.
In an informal chat just after his announcement as Springboks coach, Meyer indicated to me that he planned to gradually introduce young talent through the Rugby Championship and open the tap further for the year-end tour with a view to building squad depth ahead of 2013, which he felt from the outset would be a far more successful season than the current one.
Meyer didn’t say as much, but he would have undoubtedly expected better than the four in nine return (two draws) he sits with. Pressure has mounted quickly, and fuelled by what is perceived to be an unimaginative game plan. Meyer desperately needs his sojourn to Europe to be a successful one. However, he must display the courage of his initial conviction in his selections. This is not a call for a troop of young turks to take on Ireland, Scotland and England. Balance is key. But Meyer’s selections have to be made with a view to the future, not one designed for damage control.
The Springboks squad will be named on Saturday evening and is sure to include a couple of names that will be questioned – most notably Morné Steyn and Zane Kirchner. Neither have justified Meyer’s faith in them through their performances and their struggles have become chronic. There are alternatives – younger and more dynamic ones.
Meyer will be particularly hard-pressed to explain Steyn as a starter if he opts for that selection. There will be rhetoric about his tactical and goal kicking value in northern hemisphere conditions, but Steyn has shown a low level of competence in both these disciplines of late. In Johan Goosen’s absence Pat Lambie must start, with Elton Jantjies providing cover on the wood. Lambie’s game management was exceptional in Durban on Saturday. But this would not surprise anyone who has followed his career closely. His temperament and technical and tactical aptitude has been sternly tested in the past, most notably in the 2010 Currie Cup final when he drove the Sharks to victory over a Springboks-laden Western Province side. He is 22, but plays with composure and intelligence beyond those years.
It is a fallacy that Lambie ahead of Steyn will be a bold call. It is the logical one.
It has to be noted that injuries to exciting young talents leaves Meyer shorter on fresh blood than he otherwise would have been. Coenie Oosthuizen’s season-ending back injury is a hammer blow to Meyer, who rates the prop highly and is in the process of grooming him as a tighthead (where he’ll play for the Cheetahs in 2013). Meyer is short on experienced cover at tighthead but has spoken glowingly of WP’s Frans Malherbe, including the 21-year-old in his training camps throughout the season. Pat Cilliers covered the position in the Rugby Championship, acquitting himself well. CJ van der Linde was called up to the Springboks’ squad in the latter part of the tournament, but he is a spent force whose ability to cover loosehead and tighthead can no longer be offered for his retention.
Furthermore, Siya Kolisi (thumb) and Piet van Zyl, whom Meyer was deeply impressed by, would have come into consideration had they not been ruled out for the remainder of the year.
I’d find a place in the squad for the Sharks’ Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20, who is able to cover lock and blindside flank. Du Toit was instrumental in the Baby Boks’ success at the Junior World Championships in June and has show himself to be a player of immense promise, more so than Jacques Potgieter, whom is an impostor at Test level. The Bulls’ No 8 Arno Botha has shone despite playing behind a decidedly mediocre pack. His international education must continue in Europe.