Meyer shifts focus to youthful mix
It may not be a major shift in Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer’s thinking, but in terms of the bigger picture, it is a seismic move in the direction of the future.
Meyer admitted at the close of the second Springbok training camp that not only had he changed his mind about several players, but was looking in the direction of a more youthful Bok team to send into battle against England.
For those who have been listening to Meyer’s mantra over the past few months, this was not only unexpected, but rather interesting as well.
The Bok coach has always made it plain and clear that given a double dose of bruising derbies days before the first test against England, coupled with the expectation of victory and a well-rested English outfit arriving ready for battle, he was more keen to use experience as his vanguard than youthful exuberance.
While this has been greeted with some disdain by those who see Meyer’s move as a disguise in bringing back players of his glory years at Loftus Versfeld, it is easy to see the Bok coach wanting to get past England, gain some momentum and win back public confidence before he starts to implement some of the changes he plans for the side.
With that in mind, what he said on Wednesday evening at the conclusion of the Bok camp, whether through circumstance, introspection or the impressive way the players have reacted to the new Bok structures, still represents a massive shift for the Bok coach and the outlook towards England in particular.
Meyer has been placed a bit on the back foot, to be fair. Injuries to the likes of Schalk Burger, Jean de Villiers and Juan Smith have robbed him of some experience.
Add the fact that the Japan-based duo of Fourie du Preez and Danie Rossouw have been stopped from joining the Bok camps by their clubs, and Jaque Fourie’s decision not to play for the national team for the next two years, and he certainly doesn’t have too much of a choice.
Meyer admitted the side he selected when getting the job, and the one he now envisages to take the field in Durban against England, is far different to his original selection, partly due to injury and partly due to impressive form of some of the younger players in Super Rugby.
“I must say when I started, the team that I thought probably would start, and I've said I would give everyone a fair chance has changed a lot,” Meyer said. “Like I said, I thought it would be an experienced side just to get us going and get the continuity because the guys know a lot of the stuff and lead the youngsters."
“But it's changed a lot and I think we'll go for a younger team than I expected to go with.”
Meyer said that the time factor and Super Rugby challenges he faced in getting the team ready played a major part in his decision.
“Because I don’t have time I am thinking of using experience and then slowly changing from there. But with all the injuries and players unavailable I may have to use a lot more inexperienced players and give them the opportunities to stake a claim.
"My mindset has changed a bit because of the injuries we have had,” he added.
Still that doesn’t mean that Meyer will go the whole hog with a massively youthful team. It simply means a more balanced combination of youth and experience will be selected, with some players being given the opportunities a lot earlier than he envisaged.
“You have a guy like Etsebeth that is playing great rugby, but you can’t play 10 of those guys in a test. A guy like Marcel Coetzee of the Sharks is playing great rugby, as are the Stormers youngsters, but you can’t throw everyone to the Wolves,” he explained.
The captaincy issue also seems to have shifted. While it seems Victor Matfield still is the favourite to lead the team into battle against England, if he declines the offer, Meyer may move to find a new captain, with a number of candidates in the wings.
“I look at the captains of the five franchises and a few senior guys, but there are a lot of injuries. I’m happy I didn’t announce a captain, because I’d probably be in trouble. I think it’s the right thing to do to wait until the test match. At the camps there were a few guys who really put up their hands,” Meyer explained.
“I’ve known Adriaan Strauss since way back and he has grown as a leader, so I was very pleased with him. Josh I’ve never met and I can see he is a great leader, a different type of leader. Keegan also brought things to the table and I’ve never worked with him before, so its broadened my spectrum.
"Even if you only have one captain, I believe that going further there will be injuries, so you need at least five leaders in the team, of which three can step up as captain. It gives me a broader base, but the problem is that a lot of those guys are loose forwards and the competition at loose forward is very high.
“At hooker, we probably have the four best hookers in the world, so it is very difficult to pick a player on captaincy alone. I have to look at everything, experience included. It gives us more options, but I must say with all the injuries it makes it tough for me to get the right option. “
The Bok coach hopes to invite some under-20 players to the final training camp with the Stormers players next week.