Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer believes Bakkies Botha is good enough to still play for South Africa and he singled out Pieter-Steph du Toit as the No 5 lock answer.
Meyer, speaking to the media during the two day Bok camp in Cape Town, bemoaned the hold the Japanese clubs held over players in excluding them from international rugby, and said Andries Bekker’s absence would be massive for the Boks this season.
Meyer praised the efforts of several European-based Boks and said if the player was a better option than the local player he’d get selected. In the case of a 50-50 call the local-based player would be favoured.
However, Meyer said the nature of Japenese club contracts forced players to commit exclusively to the club. Those who play in Japan give up playing international rugby, while the core of those in Europe are still available for selection.
Meyer felt the form of Bakkies Botha had been impressive among the South African veterans overseas while he endorsed the claims of Sharks lock Du Toit.
‘I’m very worried about the No 5 lock position,’ said Meyer. ‘Andries is playing some of his best rugby but he won’t be available. The No 5 lock is probably the most important player in the pack because he runs the lineouts, is heavily involved in scrums and organises and takes most of the restarts. To lose a player of his experience and class is a big blow.
‘I’ve identified one or two players who could be shifted from other positions. (Pieter-Steph) Du Toit has played in other positions but I believe he could be the answer there. That said, it takes two or three years for a young player to become comfortable in that role, so we have to be patient.
‘I also believe Bakkies Botha can still play for the Springboks. Eben Etzebeth came through brilliantly last year, but how much better can he be with Bakkies mentoring him?’
Meyer, who in his first year was initially reluctant to pick overseas players, included seven in his end of year touring squad. He had also picked Bath-based flanker Francois Louw for the Rugby Championship.
‘He (Francois Louw) is a perfect example of a player who is based abroad who adds tremendous value. He was probably the player who changed our 2012 season for the better when he came into the mix.’