On The Brink: Can the Boks Win WC?
EXCLUSIVE: ROB BRINK CONTINUES THE EXPEDITION TO WORLD CUP 2015, GIVING US HIS VIEWS ON CONSISTENT SELECTIONS AND FINDING A WINNING MOMENTUM.
It's countdown time - albeit 10 months away from the start of World Cup 2015. At this point Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has to select a matchday squad (given the players available to him) against Wales, that he believes will win the global showpiece.
He must continue with the nucleus of the team for the next five games, building up to World Cup 20-15.
The sides that generally win major competitions (Currie Cup, Super Rugby, World Cup etc.) find their rhythm at some point in the competition and then ride the momentum of winning.
Invariably this happens with a few good wins, coupled with a consistency in selection - which results in the players being selected intricately knowing one another's style of play as individuals and as units.
When these aspects fall into place, players gain faith in one another and start to feed of one another's confidence.
It's a type of synergy that comes with consistency in selection and winning, which ultimately equates to success.
With just five games to go, Meyer has to consistently select the same players/units, as this will give them further game-time to get to know one another's style of play.
You want your players and units to have an intimate knowledge of how they play in pressurized game situations - i.e. Francois Louw knows how Duane Vermeulen takes it up and how he can then protect the ball, as he's been playing with him for some time.
The games in our group will give us another four games to get the synergy going.
So between now and the Final (hopefully we make it) we have 11 games.
That's not a whole lot of rugby!
I think the selection of Patrick Lambie at No.10 tells a big story. There isn't much between Handré Pollard and Lambie, yet Meyer has gone with Lambie, which one can't fault.
If Meyer felt Pollard was the man to win the World Cup he really should have started with him and Cobus Reinach against Wales, as this would have given them another opportunity to get to know one another in the heat of battle, as opposed to on the training filed.
There is a big difference. I think this is a very telling selection by Meyer.
Who's the better kicker? That I really don't know.
The front row know each other particularly well, as this unit has played with one another for years. Strauss, also, has played alongside Tendai Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis in many games.
The issue here, I think, is at tighthead. If du Plessis goes down, you need a replacement. I would go with Marcel Van der Merwe, who has the pedigree and put in a mammoth scrumming effort in a crucial late scrum against the All Blacks at Ellis Park.
However, the issue would be how much scrum time has he had with Bismarck du Plessis and Mtawarira?
I'm not sure we have the best individual scrummagers in world rugby in the front row (close though), but as a unit I'd say we are very close to the best, if not the best.
Victor Matfield and Eben Etzebeth now have a few games together, so the dynamic is looking good. It was also good to see Matfield get real abrasive after Parisse (who had a great game - again) annoyed him in the line-outs. I haven't seen this abrasiveness from him since his return (and I wasn't sure it was still there), so I must say it was one of the highlights of the game for me watching him hit those rucks soon after he got annoyed.
So the tight five will have the knowledge of another come the start of the World Cup and as we all know this is where it all begins. So we are really well placed.
I'd say the first-choice loose trio - Louw, Alberts and Vermeulen - know each other's play well and it is good to have Marcel Coetzee getting plenty of game time with Vermeulen and Burger. Louw, Burger and Vermeulen go back a long, long way - with the great Western Province/Stormers - so again they know each other.
For this game against Wales I would have given a Carr a run at No.6 and moved Coetzee to No.7. Carr deserves a start, where Meyer will have learnt a lot more than playing him off the bench again. Plus, Coetzee is more than capable to play at No.7.
At halfback we have a bit of a challenge.
If he goes with Reinach and Lambie that's fine. However, Reinach and Vermeulen need to get more game time together. The link between No.8 and No.9 is a high pressure area/combination and these two have to get game time together.
If Du Preez is fit he will not have played too much with Lambie and Vermeulen, so this would be a concern to me. They will only have about four games together to find the synergy, which really isn't much at all in such an important area of the team. It really is a potential issue.
The midfield at the moment is very strong defensively, but there haven't been that many line-breaks and thus one can understand those making a case for Juan de Jongh.
Jean de Villiers, at 33, is obviously still on top of his game and as a leader he has been exceptional. It's a pleasure listening to an articulate De Villiers when interviewed.
Then we also have the option of Frans Steyn. The centres mentioned have had game time together, Serfontein to a lesser degree with Steyn. Damien de Allende is also in the mix but hasn't quite grabbed his opportunity just yet.
The back three incumbents (Willie le Roux, Bryan Habana and Cornal Hendricks/JP Pietersen) have had a lot of game time together, so there is no issue in that context.
However, I'd also like to see a Frans Steyn, Le Roux and Habana/Pietersen combination - for reasons I have mentioned before.
There's also the Frans Steyn, Habana and Pietersen - which, in my opinion, worked well in the 2011 World Cup win over Wales.
I feel we are in very good position with our back three.
Wales might not be at their best at the moment but with a shrewd coach and some word class players scattered through the team - Jamie Roberts, Leigh Halfpenny, captain Sam Warburton and Gethin Jenkins, to name but a few, they will provide a very big test. It's a pity George North isn't playing.
Wales present the Boks with a great opportunity to end the year on a good note and get the rhythm/momentum back, which was evident against Italy.
It will give that dream of ours, of winning the World Cup for the third time, a bit of a surge!
In the World Cup squad there must always be a spot or two for the form players, or those breaking into the provincial scene and whom the coach believes might just have that something special at international level.
It also keeps the incumbents on their toes.
* Robby Brink, a member of the victorious 1995 Springbok World Cup squad, is a the former Western Province and Stormers loose forward, who also had a stint with Irish province Ulster.
He writes exclusively for @rugby365com