RYAN VREDE, in Edinburgh, reports Heyneke Meyer says the injury turmoil the team has had to endure this year has had positive spin-offs for their rookies that are starting to show now.
The Springboks have struggled for consistency in Meyer’s first season in charge, however, one cannot ignore the affect of the mass exodus of players after the 2011 World Cup and the number of key players who have sustained injuries over the course of his tenure.
This has robbed the team of invaluable experience, and their absence has often been telling in crunch moments. However, Meyer believes that being forced to broaden his selection net has inadvertently been hugely beneficial.
‘I noticed yesterday on the team bus that Francois Hougaard and Morne Steyn were sitting at the back [traditionally the domain of senior players]. Last year they were right in front. Suddenly within a year they’ve made that shift, which shows how short of experience this side is,’ Meyer noted.
‘But the great thing for me is that there are a couple of the younger players who are in or almost in double figures as far as caps are concerned. My whole aim is to get our young players to 24 and 25 years old and have 30 or 40 caps under their belt. The injury situation has been bad, but the way the likes of Eben Etzebeth and Marcell Coetzee and others have grown in a year is incredible and next year they’ll be even better. In the next three years leading into the World Cup, they’ll become superb.’
Meyer also explained the benefits of this tour for the likes of Arno Botha and Raymond Rhule among other players, who have been brought into the squad with a view to easing their passage into Test rugby in the years ahead.
‘You can’t just put a guy into the side without getting him up to speed, which was the case with Schalk Brits, who has to learn so many calls. The great thing though is that at the beginning there were six really young players in what we called our “young guns” and four of them are playing regularly now,’ he said.
‘For guys like Raymond and Arno, they’re learning our structures and culture. I’ve always believed in not pushing youngsters too early. A guy like Eben Etzebeth is an exception. But the timing is so important with most young players. Arno and Raymond will learn a lot from this experience and definitely next year they’ll play some Test rugby.’
All this amounts to Meyer potentially having a very big pool of players to select from in 2013. He said the benefits of that were numerous but it was also a daunting prospect.
‘I don’t know how I’m going to pick a team, particularly in the loose forwards, when everyone is conditioned and available. I really believe that next year we’ll grow and build going into the World Cup. If we can keep the nucleus of this side together I’m very optimistic about the future.’