Heyneke Meyer has reiterated his call for a central contracting system as a means of making the Springboks the strongest force in the game.
The success of Meyer’s first season in charge has been compromised by a string of first-choice players going down injured, while there have also been a host of withdrawals of impact and fringe players. He will undertake the year-end tour without the services of Bismarck du Plessis, Bryan Habana, Frans Steyn and Andries Bekker, who are widely considered to be among the best in their positions in the game. They are all sidelined because of what Meyer has attributed to the destructive and cumulative effect of the longest season in their careers.
Meyer has voiced serious concerns about the well-being of the elite players in the recent past and has again suggested that something needs to change or risk their careers being cut by many years, in the process undermining any potential for the Springboks to become the world’s pre-eminent side.
‘My strength has always been to change flawed systems which I hope I can still do while in charge. New Zealand get it right from a player management point of view. We have to look at that as a way forward otherwise we will never be the top team in the world,’ Meyer told keo.co.za. ‘Our top players simply cannot play Currie Cup, Super Rugby and Test matches. Also their social and family life suffers because they are never at home. We are going to lose more players to overseas teams if this doesn’t change. If we want to win consistently, not just one or two here and there, we have to look at the systems going forward.
‘We’re not in an ideal situation and I’m worried about all the injuries, particularly since there are some world-class players unavailable,’ he continued. ‘This tour was already a tough one and with the injuries it will be tougher. It is frustrating because I wanted to try new things and build on what we’ve done so far. But when you have new players coming into the group you have to go back to basics. If you consider that Fourie du Preez and Jaque Fourie weren’t available, and Frans Steyn and Bryan Habana were injured recently, if I had all those players fit suddenly the backline is helluva experienced. Hopefully one day I can pick that backline.’
Team doctor Craig Roberts, however, eased some fears around the availability of players in the squad who are carrying knocks. Francois Louw’s neck injury has responded well to treatment and he is expected to play for Bath on Sunday. Adriaan Strauss will participate fully in training this week after a knee injury, while captain Jean de Villiers (hamstring) has already started running and will be available for selection for the Ireland Test.
Meyer confirmed that he had settled on the 32nd player to tour but could not say who because details were still being discussed with his club. Locks Bakkies Botha (Toulon) and Marco Wentzel (London Wasps) are on standby. Meyer extolled Wentzel’s lineout value (he has been the Premiership’s most successful lineout receiver), while adding that he still held Botha in high regard. ‘I’d love to have Bakkies involved because I think he has two or three years left in him at Test level,’ he said. ‘But he isn’t going to start ahead of Eben and he isn’t a bench player.’
By Ryan Vrede, in Cape Town