Who will make the Bok cut?

Thu, 15 May 2014 10:06
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Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer will show his hand for the first time next week, when he names the first training squad of 2014.

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer will show his hand for the first time next week, when he names the first training squad of 2014.

The initial squad - to take part in a training camp in Durban from May 25 to 28 - will feature all the home-based players and a few from abroad.

However, there will be an opportunity for players outside that squad to 'force' their way into the selection frame for the mid-year Tests and the Rugby Championship.

That opportunity comes when the Boks face an impressive World XV in their opening match of the season - at Newlands on June 7.

The Nick Mallett-coached World XV will feature a few interesting names - Rory Kockott, Schalk Brits, BJ Botha, Alistair Hargreaves and Juandré Kruger.

The big question is, who of them have a realistic chance to force their way into the Bok selection frame?

The Bok coach, Meyer, was as diplomatic as ever when asked about the season-opener in Cape Town and the South African players in the World XV.

"Any player who is eligible to play for South Africa, will be considered," Meyer told rugby365 in an exclusive interview.

"More importantly, they will have to show us that they want to play for the Springboks," the Bok coach added.

"We have good depth in some positions, but not across the board and ensuring we select the best players for South Africa is something we are constantly looking at."

The French-based scrumhalf, Kockott, has been the talk of the town because of his form for Top 14 champions Castres Olympique.

Many pundits feel he is a must for the Boks, but how realistic are his chances? It is a fact the he is competing with a host of quality scrumhalves - Japan-based World Cup-winner Fourie du Preez, Ulster's star No.9 Ruan Pienaar, utility Bok Francois Hougaard, injured Stormer Louis Schreuder, the Sharks' Cobus Reinach, the Bulls' Piet van Zyl and even Toulouse-based Bok Jano Vermaak.

Not an easy task.

Tighthead prop, where Munster's Bok BJ Botha will get a shot, is another position where South Africa are not short on talent.  Botha's road is certainly littered with talented obstacles.

Veteran World Cup-winner Jannie du Plessis is the obvious choice, but behind him in the queue are a host of players like Sharks teammate and fellow Bok Lourens Adriaanse, Stormers Boks Frans Malherbe (currently injured) and Pat Cilliers, the Cheetahs' utility front row forward Coenie Oosthuizen, while youngsters like Marcel van der Merwe (Bulls) and Nicolaas van Dyk (Cheetahs) are also making great strides.

The two locks in the World XV, Alistair Hargreaves (four caps) and Juandré Kruger (17 Tests) have also had a taste of international rugby. It is also a fact that injuries have robbed the Boks of a number of quality second row forwards this year.

Eben Etzebeth is on his way back from off-season surgery and could feature for the Boks against the World XV, hopefully also get a Super Rugby run before then. However, long-term injuries to Pieter-Steph du Toit (a major blow) and Franco van der Merwe (valuable experience lost) left South Africa very thin in the No.5 position - further exacerbated by veteran Bok Andries Bekker's self-imposed exile in Japan.

It means Victor Matfield should be wrapped in cotton wool, as most of the other No.5s are probably still a season away from being Test-match ready. It does, however, leave the back door slightly ajar for someone like Kruger.

That brings us to the Saracens-based hooker, Brits. Having played the last of his five Tests on the year-end tour in 2012, he may be the closest of the World XV group to a Bok recall.

Injuries have spread the Bok resources very thin at No.2 - with Siyabonga Ntubeni (fractured metatarsal), Tiaan Liebenberg (neck) and Mahlatse Ralepelle (out for eight months with an AC joint problem) not available anytime soon. That leaves first-choice Bismark du Plessis and back-up Adriaan Strauss.

There are some talented youngsters coming through the ranks, with the Lions' Vodacom Cup and SA Under-20 hooker Malcolm Marx top of that list. However, most of them are a season or two away from Test rugby.

It leaves the front door open for the 32-year-old Brits to get another run in the Green and Gold.

The June 7 outing at Newlands is also about a lot more than just plugging any gaps in a settled Bok squad, given that it is just a year out from the World Cup.

"It's the first match of our season and our aim this year is to make a step up from where we left off in 2013," Meyer told rugby365.

"I thought we showed great improvement last year and I would like this upward curve to remain in place.

"Traditionally though, the third season has always been tough. I can't speak on behalf of what happened with other coaches in years gone by, but for us it's important to stay focused this year, keep our feet on the ground, stay humble and step up a gear."

Meyer, with 18 games left before the Boks head to the World Cup in England next year, also can't afford to look past the World XV, or the June Tests against Wales and Scotland.

"We need to build and the World Cup will take care of itself," the Bok mentor said.

"Our focus is on our first game of the season, against the World XV in Cape Town on June 7. We need to beat them and build from there."

Meyer also dismissed the notion that the poor form of some of South Africa's Super Rugby franchises - most notably the Stormers and Cheetahs, would have sounded the alarm bells.

"We've seen some very positive things in Super Rugby this year," He said, adding: "The current Springbok set-up has been going for two years now and as we only have 18 matches before the World Cup in England, we need to ensure we keep on building continuity in our play.

"There is always room for tweaks, but for us the basics remain in place and we'll keep on using that as the foundation for our play.

"Injuries are part of the game and we have to live with it. Some people can see it as a negative, but I prefer to take the positives out of it - it means a break for some players and also provides new players with an opportunity to show what they can do."

By Jan de Koning