Can Boks avoid World Cup pitfalls?

2014-12-14 15:00

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Cold weather, wet fields, unpredictable referees and hostile crowds are just some of the obstacles the Springboks have to overcome to win next year’s rugby World Cup – but that’s not the worst of their troubles.

The biggest hindrances in South Africa’s third bid for the Webb Ellis Cup are of coach Heyneke Meyer’s own making – either by his actions, lack of them, or by the interventions of that cruel mistress called fate.

From today, the eighth World Cup is 277 days and four tests away for the Boks. And after a disappointing tour of England, Ireland, Wales and Italy, Meyer suddenly seems to have more questions than answers – most of which have nothing to do with the opposition.

For instance, much is being made about the fact that in 2006 and 2007, Jake White’s Springboks had a poor run-up before they went on to win the tournament in France. But a key element is being overlooked here.

White’s team was a collection of players in their ascendancy while Meyer’s team looks to be a group hanging on for the last hurrah.

These are the posers that loom large for Meyer:

»?Jean de Villiers – Will the coach’s anointed captain recover in time? Will he be up to the task?

»?Fourie du Preez – To what extent does Meyer’s master plan depend on the return from injury, and to his best, of his favoured scrum half?

»?Dad’s Army – Victor Matfield (38), De Villiers (34), Gurthrö Steenkamp (34), Du Preez (33), Jannie du Plessis (33), Schalk Burger (32) and Bryan Habana (32) are all on the wrong side of 30. How many of them does Meyer dare to risk?

»?Frans Steyn – With De Villiers in a fight to get fit and Jaque Fourie ostensibly retired, the rapprochement with the youngest winner of a World Cup medal has to be found.

»?Bakkies Botha and Fourie – How damaging have their unexpected retirements been? To what extent did the coach feel he needed them?

»?Four tests left – The Springboks’ schedule next year includes just three Rugby Championship matches against Argentina, New Zealand and Australia with an additional away match against the Pumas. Will these tests be sufficient, because the time for experimentation is over?

»?Handré Pollard or Patrick Lambie? Meyer has to decide who will be his perfect Number?10, and stick with him. The current game of musical chairs is doing neither of the gifted youngsters any good.

»?Ruan Pienaar and Morné Steyn – Does he still rate them? Does he still need them?

»?Loose forward trio: Will it be Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw and Willem Alberts, or does he have to include a more creative player?

»?The injury conundrum – Will the likes of Louw, Alberts, Flip van der Merwe, Marcel van der Merwe, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Arno Botha, Frans Malherbe and even Pierre Spies be fully recovered and ready to play a role?

»?Getting the “mix” right – Transformation is always a key issue and Meyer will walk a tricky path to make his squad as representative as possible.

»?The new generation – Is there room for the skills and excitement of players such as Seabelo Senatla, Jaco Kriel and Warren Whiteley?

»?Will there be the “flyers”? Is the coach considering players such as Juan de Jongh and Jacques Potgieter?

»?Off the radar – Can the likes of Juandré Kruger, Jaco Taute, Bjorn Basson, Ryan Kankowski and Zane Kirchner force their way back in?

»?Style of play – The recent tour showed that other teams have worked out the Boks’ crash-and-bash style.

More skills are needed in the forwards and more finesse is needed in the backs. Can Meyer add these skills? Does he need help? Is there time for this?

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