Pleasant selection quandaries for Meyer
Heyneke Meyer has some important selection decisions to make over the next few days, but for once they are of the good sort as the Springbok coach struggles with the dilemma of who to leave out if he is to satisfy one of the chief goals of this November tour.
Before he left South Africa Meyer said the emphasis of the trip, which includes test matches against Ireland, Scotland and England, was two-fold -- he wants to see the Boks regain some lost pride by winning every test match, and he also wants to see the depth of the squad expanded and developed with the 2015 World Cup in mind.
In one specific area the Boks certainly made a great step forward in the 16-12 win over Ireland, and that was the reminder that front-row forwards, and props in particular, remain plentiful enough in South Africa to rival gold and platinum as the country’s main export materials.
Richardt Strauss, cousin of Bok hooker Adriaan, who was the star of a strong South African second-half forward effort, made a solid debut for Ireland, and an Irish-based SA prop played the role of unlikely hero for the visitors.
It was by accident of course that Meyer ended up digging so deep into his front-row resource base. Beast Mtawarira was ruled out on the day of the Ireland game after being rushed to hospital after suffering from heart palpitations. It meant CJ van der Linde was called into the team at the 11th hour, and considering he hasn’t been a consistent member of any starting team for quite a while, the 2007 World Cup-winner responded well to the challenge.
But even better, and certainly a revelation, was Heinke van der Merwe, the Ireland-based former Lions player who came on later in the game after only linking up with the team on Wednesday following an emergency call from the Bok coach. Van der Merwe contributed handsomely to the Bok win by helping force a crucial penalty in the last quarter of the match.
“It was a huge surprise for me to be playing today as I had expected to be here watching the Boks play from the stands,” said Van der Merwe afterwards.
“I feel I have grown since coming over here. This is my third year, and what has helped me is the attention to the basics. My Bok aspirations were always there, but I appreciate it is difficult when you are based overseas because there is so much front-row talent back home.”
OPPORTUNITY TO GROW
Like props tend to, at least publicly, Van der Merwe was reluctant to take credit for the scrum penalty that everyone else was talking about.
“As I say, there is a lot of scrumming strength in South Africa, and although I didn’t scrum much with the guys during the week, I just had to fit into a strong unit which had a lot of good players working together cohesively. But it was great to be part of it and winning against Ireland at Aviva Stadium is definitely a highlight of my career.”
So the big question now is this -- seeing Van der Merwe did so well, shouldn’t Meyer be taking another look at him in Edinburgh this week?
Perhaps it won’t even require a decision, for the Boks arrived in Scotland on Sunday with a couple of potential front-row problems. Gurthro Steenkamp is still ailing, and while Mtawarira was on the flight from Dublin to Edinburgh and has been given the thumbs up to play by the management, it is debatable whether it would be wise to push him back into the starting team just yet.
Meyer will know that if there is one game on a tour like this where you are able to experiment, it is the one against Scotland. But he will also be only too aware that while at this moment the Scots only enjoy a one match winning streak against his team at Murrayfield after being victorious here in 2010, the 2008 side were lucky to get home in a closely fought battle.
There is nothing that can set a Springbok team back quite as emphatically as a loss to Scotland, and after getting out of a dark hole in Dublin, Meyer might want to make sure the momentum is kept up by choosing what he considers his strongest team.
That would include Pat Lambie at flyhalf, for the Sharks player did enough at Aviva Stadium to justify the faith that he says the coach now has in him, and while there is a good argument for giving Elton Jantjies a chance at some stage, it is also true that Lambie should be given maximum opportunity to grow and build what was started in Dublin.
There is talk of the exciting Free Stater Raymond Rhule being given an opportunity to show what he can do among the outside backs at Murrayfield, and although Jaco Taute grew later in the game in Dublin and really started to look confident by the end, this is the time for him to be tried at his preferred position of fullback. That would enable Juan de Jongh, the form South African centre at the end of the domestic season, to wear the No 13 jersey.
It may also be time to debate whether Francois Hougaard really brings that much more than Lwazi Mvovo would if played on the left wing. While the pack was impressive in turning the tide in Dublin, there is still a lot of improving to do at the back, and Meyer would be justified in looking at his options there in Edinburgh.