That tour of two halves

2014-10-29 00:00

ONE tour, but two different parts … that may well be the tactical thinking of coach Heyneke Meyer as the 36-strong Springboks prepare for another northern hemisphere adventure.

When the four-match, all-

November schedule was first revealed, it did not take a brain surgeon to work out the first two matches look the most formidable of the quartet, requiring the tourists to hit the ground running.

First up, after all, are defending Six Nations champions Ireland in Dublin on November 8, immediately followed a week later by narrow runners-up (not to mention frontline World Cup 2015 hosts) England at their Twickenham stronghold.

Frankly, although there are some welcome new faces in the party — five standout performers for best two sides Western Province and the Golden Lions in the recently-concluded Currie Cup — it will be a relative surprise if they get a significant look-in during that tough “phase one” of the tour.

Instead Nizaam Carr, Jaco Kriel and the other first-timers seem far likelier to simply initially become familiar with the squad culture and be busier participants in broad training drills than as members of match-day squads straight away unless injuries suddenly create gaps.

For the tasks in Dublin and London, expect Meyer to lean heavily toward the personnel who served him with aplomb as the Boks ended the Rugby Championship — albeit as runners-up — with a bang, earning successive home victories over Australia and New Zealand.

Why should the coach, following the drought-breaking 27-25 triumph over the All Blacks at Ellis Park, wish to suddenly fiddle too markedly, if at all, with the team furniture?

We know he will have at his disposal on this tour, following the revelation of the party on Monday, all but one (injured back-up tighthead Marcel van der Merwe) of the match 23 who did duty in the Johannesburg Test, so “same again” seems the logical approach to the Ireland opener.

If that clash produces the outcome the Boks desire, the bag ought not to be shaken much for “Twickers” either.

But, it is once those two fixtures are out of the way that things probably get a bit more fluid, offering better hope to the various newcomers that they will wear the green and gold jersey as the mission moves to phase two.

For obvious reasons — not least their bottom place and winless status in the latest Six Nations plus modest 14th IRB ranking — Italy in Padova in the third fixture looks the easiest on paper by some distance.

It seems an opportunity for experimentation just too inviting to pass up, and would give several senior Boks suffering some symptoms of year-end fatigue a chance to be withdrawn and start thinking about their well-earned summer holidays.

It could also prove perfect to “gel” a new-look combination ahead of the closing encounter with Wales before their ever-passionate Millennium Stadium support.

That Cardiff clash falls outside the designated Test window so the Boks must make do without a few staple, current squad members.

While it is true only Bryan Habana (Toulon) would be ruled out from the starting XV that did duty against the All Blacks, the bench from then would be more greatly affected: another French-based player in Bakkies Botha will not be eligible and the same applies to Japan-based Schalk Burger and JP Pietersen.

Whether as starters or substitutes, you can see why the Italy and Wales games will be most optimistically pricking up the ears of maiden Boks and other more “fringe” personalities.

The Welsh certainly cannot be too underrated, although South Africa have a happy historical knack of somehow being able, nine times out of 10, to repel them even when they have hurled the kitchen sink at the Boks.

But, the Italians have not yet beaten the Springboks in 11 encounters, the closest margin of defeat being by 16 points at Witbank in 2010, and South Africa have never registered fewer than 32 points in their favour (twice 50-plus) in four meetings in Italy itself.

The Boks would probably be heavily tipped to prevail once again in Padova even if Meyer takes the adventurous step of starting with the five new caps.

He probably will not, but expect there to be opportunities (whether as starters or substitutes) for some of the raw personnel in the northern Italian city and perhaps one game beyond it.

Springbok fixtures:

Nov 8 - Ireland v South Africa

Nov 15 - England v South Africa

Nov 22 - Italy v South Africa

Nov 29 - Wales v South Africa

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