Second Phase

Meyer playing it safe

Sun, 05 Aug 2012 14:59
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Grant is too good not to be in the mix and, crucially, has the experience that apparently limits Jantjies to the role of spectator.
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The Springbok squad announced on Saturday shows that Heyneke Meyer is still very much in survival mode, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

Meyer’s squad announcement, the second of his tenure as Bok mentor, isn’t necessarily a poor one, but rather a safe one lacking long-term planning.

Meyer conceded as much when he said the 30-man squad was selected for the Rugby Championship opener against newcomers Argentina at Newlands on August 18.

He went on to say that the initial squad will be trimmed to 26 for the return match in Mendoza, after which alterations will be made for the Tests against Australia and New Zealand.

That’s all well and good, but how will South African rugby benefit from this safety first mentality? Building a winning mentality within a squad is paramount and it’s clear that Meyer is sticking to his vision of winning every Test as opposed to building towards a four-year plan.

In doing so, however, Meyer is running the risk of setting himself up for failure as a series win over England and back-to-back victories over the Pumas will count for precious little if the Boks come unstuck against their rivals from the Antipodes.

Battles against the All Blacks and Wallabies remain the measuring stick of the state of South African rugby and Meyer’s short-sighted selection policy hardly instils confidence ahead of these acid tests.   

One need only compare the squads of the SANZAR nations to identify key areas of concern in the Springbok composition, none greater and potentially detrimental than the long-standing flyhalf issue.

The Australasian sides have ensured they cover their bases in this pivotal position by including a healthy number of playmakers that can slot in at flyhalf should the need arise.

The All Blacks have Aaron Cruden, with 11 Tests and a World Cup winner’s medal to his name, as back up for the mercurial Dan Carter, while the Wallabies have Quade Cooper and Berrick Barnes, with Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor (if fit) providing additional cover.

Conversely, the Boks have the struggling Morne Steyn and uncapped Elton Jantjes as specialist flyhalves, with utility backs Pat Lambie and Frans Steyn able to stand in if necessary.

Following Steyn’s indifferent form in the England series, it’s unfathomable why Meyer didn’t call up Peter Grant, especially after remarking that Jantjies wasn’t utilised against the English due to his inexperience.

It begs the question why have the Lions youngster in the squad and on the bench when you doubt his abilities and fail to back him when the situation so clearly demands it?

Jantjies’ undeniable talent warrants his selection and should dispel any notions of him being a political pawn, but if his primary responsibilities in the national squad are to carry tackle bags and water bottles he serves little purpose.

Grant is too good not to be in the mix and crucially, has the experience that apparently limits Jantjies to the role of spectator.

Grant had an ill-timed off day in the Super Rugby semi-final against the Sharks but that should not be misconstrued as a lack of big match temperament.

He is as composed and consistent as they come, was the most accurate goal-kicker in Super Rugby this season and is well-drilled in executing a conservative game plan not unlike that employed by the Boks.

There’s no point in having the debate over Grant lingering on - put him to the test and see wether he sinks or swims. South Africa have too many talented number tens to persist with a misfiring Steyn, it merely hampers the much-needed evolution of Springbok rugby.

Meyer has to put the best interests of the country ahead of his own and make some inspired decisions if the Boks are to evolve and once again challenge the All Blacks for the coveted world number one ranking.

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