Meyer starts to show his thinking
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has started to show his thinking as he called up what is effectively his first proper national squad for a final planning camp ahead of the England series.
Up to now Meyer has given little away as he called up in excess of 100 players for a series of camps which were effectively an opportunity for him to get to know the bulk of the players that make up the various Super Rugby franchises, and for them to get to know him. So it was hard to say one way or another who was in favour or not.
However the squad has now been whittled down to 42 and is no longer selected according to franchise and provincial parameters. Meyer has cautioned that the group, that will meet in Durban for a camp that will last through Sunday and finish early enough on Monday for the players to make it back to afternoon training sessions at their franchises, is not a final selection and the door is still open to players excluded from the group.
But the 32-man squad for the England series should include few players not called up for the Durban camp -- the notable exceptions being overseas based players such as Ruan Pienaar and Frans Steyn, who are expected to be part of his plans.
There is also uncertainty over Fourie du Preez. The world’s finest scrumhalf, now based in Japan recently issued a statement that seemed to indicate that he wanted a low key role, if any, in international rugby from now on. That though was not the same as the retirement that some people saw it as, and Meyer still hopes to have him available for the Springboks.
Indeed, as Du Preez is the only scrumhalf who really fits the prototype that you would imagine Meyer preferring for his game plan, in which a strong, accurate tactical kicker is a must for the No 9 jersey, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if he is available he will likely be the first choice.
And if he is the first choice, then he is also the logical choice as team captain as he, like Victor Matfield, is probably the player in the country who best understands what Meyer wants as a coach. Meyer has confirmed that Matfield has ruled out a return to international rugby from his retirement, but he has not said the same about Du Preez, who he is understood to be meeting sometime this week.
In any event, Du Preez’s exclusion from the 42-man squad has nothing sinister about it -- there is an IRB regulation in place that precludes national unions from calling up overseas based players except during the international window. The smart money should be on Du Preez being in the 32 named in Pretoria next Saturday night for the England series, probably as captain.
Jano Vermaak and Piet van Zyl have meanwhile been included as the two additional scrumhalves to Francois Hougaard, who will definitely be part of the 32 for the England series regardless of whether Du Preez is available or not. It is anticipated that Meyer will include three scrumhalves in the final group, so either one of Vermaak or Van Zyl will drop out, or both will drop out should Ireland based Pienaar be called up.
The chances of a Pienaar return to the Bok group should be considered good as he is the next best South African flyhalf in terms of being able to deliver what Du Preez can with his tactical kicking. He has been in good form during the northern hemisphere season.
Notable surprise inclusions in the 42 for Durban and who could consider themselves to be in the frame include Bulls backline player JJ Engelbrecht, Lions tighthead Pat Cilliers and his franchise captain Josh Strauss, with Keegan Daniel, the Sharks captain, also being a bit of a surprise although more for the fact he was ignored by the previous Bok coach than because of any lack of ability or current form.
Young players who have made their mark and who have moved strongly into the frame for test selection include Stormers lock Eben Etzebeth and Sharks flank Marcell Coetzee. Both of the big Sharks blindside flanks who have the ball carrying ability that Meyer would be looking for from a player in that position, Willem Alberts and Jean Deysel, have been included.
Meyer explained that the camp has been planned for Durban because the Stormers take on the Sharks at Mr Price Kings Park in the late game on Saturday night so it is the most convenient venue from a logisitics viewpoint.
“This camp will put in place a number of the finer details in terms of what we want to achieve against England. We will hit the ground running on 3 June, when we converge in Durban for the first test with a final squad,” said Meyer.
The coach said he would keep in touch with Super Rugby franchises regarding injured players but that they weren’t considered for the camp.
The 32-man squad for the England series will be named directly after the north/south Super Rugby derby between the Bulls and Stormers at Loftus next Saturday.
Forwards (22): Coenie Oosthuizen, Tendai Mtawarira, Dean Greyling, Jannie du Plessis, Pat Cilliers, Werner Kruger, Bismarck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Flip van der Merwe, Eben Etzebeth, Andries Bekker, Juandré Kruger, Marcell Coetzee, CJ Stander, Heinrich Brüssow, Keegan Daniel, Willem Alberts, Jean Deysel, Pierre Spies, Ryan Kankowski, Josh Strauss.
Backs (20): Francois Hougaard, Jano Vermaak, Piet van Zyl, Morné Steyn, Pat Lambie, Elton Jantjies, Peter Grant, Wynand Olivier, Jean de Villiers, Juan de Jongh, JJ Engelbrecht, Bryan Habana, Bjorn Basson, JP Pietersen, Gio Aplon, Lwazi Mvovo, Akona Ndungane, Zane Kirchner, Jaco Taute, Joe Pietersen.