Mind Games: All eyes on Heyneke ahead of World Cup

2014-10-20 09:00

After getting the monkey off his back by finally beating the All Blacks, Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer received more good news last week with the announcement of the dates of next year’s Rugby Championship.

It had already been declared that the championship would be a truncated version, with each of the four countries playing each other just once, but a worrying factor for Meyer, indeed the other coaches too, was that one of the options being looked at was to insert the southern hemisphere tournament after the completion of the rugby World Cup in England on October 31 2015.

If that had been the case, Meyer would have had just four more tests – this year’s outgoing tour in November to play Ireland, England, Italy and Wales – to put the pieces in place for the World Cup.

However, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia Rugby has announced that the championship will be played during July and August, immediately after what in 2015 will be a full fixture list of the Super Rugby competition.

The Springboks will kick off their 2015 Rugby Championship campaign against Australia in Brisbane on July 18.

The Boks will then play New Zealand and Argentina at home, finishing with an away match against Los Pumas.

Although it was always likely that pressure from coaches Meyer, Steve Hansen, Ewen McKenzie and Daniel Hourcade would prevail, the announcement of what will now be an ideal set of matches to prepare for the World Cup would have come as a boon to the quartet responsible for plotting how to annex the Webb Ellis Cup.

However, Meyer is faced with some difficult decisions regarding the November tour to Europe.

Does he go with his most senior side to maintain momentum and the dominance the Springboks have over northern hemisphere nations, or does he allow for rest and recuperation for some and experiment with different players – especially in positions that need bolstering?

Tight head prop, for instance, must surely be a concern for the coach.

Jannie du Plessis has soldiered on stoically in the No?3 jersey, but there were signs as the season wore on that the good doctor from KwaZulu-Natal was in need of a break.

The experiment with Coenie Oosthuizen at tight head did not work.

So will Meyer decide to allow Marcel van der Merwe, who did a good job coming on as a substitute this season, and his original back-up, Frans Malherbe, who should have recovered from his injury, to stake their claims?

There are also questions about who will play loose head, where Tendai “The Beast” Mtawarira has been some way short of the rampaging forward that earned him his nickname.

Is it time to bank on Trevor Nyakane, bring Oosthuizen back into what appears to be his best position and allow Gürthro Steenkamp to quietly fade into retirement in France?

Although the SA Rugby Union’s contracted players have been pulled out of the Currie Cup, would 37-year-old Victor Matfield, who confounded all those who questioned his decision to come out of retirement, and other long servers such as Jean de Villiers, Bakkies Botha and Bryan Habana do better out of a good break than if they were given more action?

On top of it all, a scourge of injuries will complicate Meyer’s life.

Will Francois Louw, a potential captain if De Villiers or Matfield are unavailable, be ready? Is Meyer still interested in Pierre Spies?

Has Ruan Pienaar run his race given the energy and urgency instilled by the scrum half combination of Francois Hougaard and Cobus Reinach?

Is it not time to take another look at Juan de Jongh, and is there room for the exceptional dynamism of Seabelo Senatla?

Meyer also has to factor in how to accommodate players tied into overseas contracts, but he has had the chance to work with virtually every possible candidate and the 36-man squad he picks (to be announced next Sunday) for the November tour will provide an indication of his thinking.

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