Mind Games: Will old prove to be gold for Meyer in jam-packed Bok season?

2014-05-25 15:00

The first Springbok training camp of the year has shifted the focus from Super Rugby to test matches.

It has also illustrated the arduous task ahead for national coach Heyneke Meyer, who chose to keep a low profile during the Super Rugby competition. He emerges from hibernation today to begin preparations in Durban for the June tests against the World XV, Wales and Scotland.

Super Rugby will resume after that, and then it will be time for the Rugby Championship from August 16 to October 4 before the end-of-year tour against Ireland, England, Italy and Wales.

There are 14 tests in all. Meyer has assembled a group of 36 players but the Gordian Knot he has to disentangle is shown up by the fact that he has been unable to prise many potential players from their franchises.

Injuries have claimed a few players while others are locked into contracts with their overseas clubs. Most of those who will report for duty will arrive from far-flung destinations.

Sharks players will have made their weary way from Auckland after their match on Friday against the Blues; Bulls players will come from Pretoria, where they took on the Brumbies on Friday night; and Stormers and Cheetahs players will come from Cape Town, following their match yesterday.

The only Lion in the squad, Marnitz Boshoff, probably won’t mind the mission as he is joining the Springbok group for the first time. But he will nevertheless have to shake off jet lag, having made his way from Perth where the Lions played the Force yesterday.

With the players having to depart again on Wednesday to prepare for two derbies on Saturday (the Lions vs the Bulls and the Sharks vs the Stormers), Meyer will be unable to do any real work before naming the team to play the World XV.

The upshot is that while he might have included a smattering of new faces, Meyer has been forced into a better-the-devil-you-know reality.

An entrenched rule of Springbok rugby is that test matches will not be lost, so with virtually no time to prepare, Meyer has turned to the players who know his methods and he might just end up with a decidedly aging test team.

Victor Matfield, Schalk Burger and Heinrich Brüssow played their last matches for the Boks in October 2011, in the woeful Rugby World Cup quarterfinal against Australia in New Zealand.

With the other 30 or so players in the group, they could put Meyer on track to repeat the mistakes made by Australia in 1995, New Zealand in 1999, England in 2007 and themselves in 2011, when faith in a mature team did not pay off.

There is the argument thatif you’re good enough, you’re young enough. That notwithstanding, Meyer has little choice here.

The season is simply too packed with matches that affect coaches’ jobs to allow him the time to work with the Springboks. He will thus arrive at next year’s World Cup facing the dilemma he now has unless some space can be created.

The SA Rugby Union needs to step in and arrange a series of midweek matches for the November tour to enable Meyer to take a larger group.

Apart from being able to drill his squad for five weeks in World Cup conditions, experience has shown there’s nothing like putting a kid out on a cold, wet field against fired-up opponents to tell if he’s got it or not.

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