Six Boks back to Europe
The Springboks’ decision to continue with their overseas-based players had its first impact as the team arrived back in South Africa on Monday with no fewer than six members of the 26-man squad having to fly back to France to represent their clubs this weekend.
With 10 members of the Bok squad now based overseas, the French clubs have upped the ante and requested to have their players back for this weekend’s third round of the Top 14, as the Boks will be in transit on their way to Australia.
The problem is that the departures will hamper the Springboks’ preparations, although it seems that the South African Rugby Union has been very accommodating to the clubs and has decided to let them go.
Winger Bryan Habana has headed back to Toulon, flyhalf Morne Steyn to Stade Francais, lock Juandre Kruger to Racing Metro, while scrumhalf Jano Vermaak, prop Gurthro Steenkamp and hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle have all headed to Toulouse to play there this weekend.
All six players are set to make their Top 14 debut for their clubs, but it means they will not be with the Boks when they re-assemble in Johannesburg on Thursday, and will miss two days of training, arriving only on Monday in Brisbane and re-joining the team there.
Already the use of the overseas-based Boks is a contentious issue for Saru, but there is no doubt that coach Heyneke Meyer wants his strongest available squad for the test matches and there will be teething problems in the process.
Five of the players are set to start, while in the case of Steyn, it seems he will be on the bench for Stade Francais this weekend. The flyhalf kicked 16 points to give the Boks a narrow victory in Mendoza over Argentina and is a key man in the Boks' game-plan going forward, while Habana and Kruger also played on the weekend.
Steenkamp was on the bench with Vermaak, while Ralepelle was in the touring group. Vermaak does have a decent chance to start against Australia in Brisbane after the poor performance of Ruan Pienaar in Mendoza though.
Still, the Boks will need to decide how they want to use the six when they return. It is likely that the coaching staff already have a match 23 in their minds for Brisbane and it is unlikely that Habana, Kruger, Steyn or Vermaak are not part of it.
But how they will be affected by travelling halfway across the world through three continents and still playing a competitive game inbetween, is anyone’s guess.