RYAN VREDE, in Dublin, reports that Heyneke Meyer has outlined four key foundations on which he believes the success of his touring squad can be built.
Meyer has an arduous task ahead of him in the next three weeks, with a number of world-class players injured or unavailable due to contractual commitments to their respective clubs. However, he refused to discuss that as a potential obstacle to success and also rejected the suggestion that fatigue would undermine his cause. He said he was very clear in his directive to the players prior to the tour.
‘This has been physically the toughest season in history for South African players. But I really want guys who want to play for South Africa. Schalk Brits is a great example. When I phoned him [to inform him of his selection], he said he’d hold bags for three weeks just to be part of the set up. That is the type of mentality and character I want in this team. There’s no excuses. I understand player welfare is important, but when you put on that jersey everything must be geared towards winning,’ Meyer said.
‘Secondly, I also believe the guys must enjoy it. I love touring and as a young team there is an opportunity for them to bond and make memories. Thirdly, I want them to commit to excellence and have a massive work ethic. Its been a long season but they have to be thoroughly prepared. There are no excuses.
‘Finally I want to see which guys have what it takes to play away from home and in testing conditions. I don’t want to chop and change going forward. From the outset I wanted to use this season to establish who are the players I can rely on and this is the final hurdle for those who want to be involved.’
Two hands is insufficient to count the number of casualties Meyer has had to contend with in his bid to make the Springboks the dominant team he envisions, but he did point to advantages of the otherwise dire situation.
‘I don’t want to lose Test matches then point to rebuilding. I want to win every Test, but certainly I have benefited from the injuries in so much as we’ve built some depth by being forced to use youngsters. It’s a win-win situation going forward,’ he said.
‘A lot of the youngsters have taken their chance and they’ll be even better when more experienced players come back and we integrate them properly [i.e surround a select few with those experienced players]. [The injury situation] also forced me to look at some of the overseas-based players and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what they’ve added.’
Meyer still feels short on quality in depth in certain positions, while on others, most notably in the backline, is desperate for more players with game-breaking ability and who meet his requirements as far as size, skill, speed and power are concerned.
Particularly vexing to him is the shortage of No 5 locks, this worry trumped only by the absence of high quality tightheads to share Jannie du Plessis’ workload.
‘Jannie has been awesome, but I’m worried about who is next in line. A tighthead only gets to his best at 29 or 30, and most of the guys in that category are overseas,’ Meyer said before answering questions relating to speculation about Northampton’s Brian Mujati, whose call-up was blocked as a result of passport issues.
‘Brian is probably playing the best rugby of his career. He is well respected in the Premiership and when I’ve watched his games he has been unbelievable in the scrums. In the northern hemisphere every single scrum is a battle and they scrum for penalties, not just as a restart point. So you don’t just need an impact player to come on at prop for you, you need a guy who can put the opposition under pressure later in the game at scrum time. He has really impressed me in this department.’