Mind Games: Will Heyneke also get his SMS?

2015-04-26 15:00

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While cricket squirms, wriggles and fibs its way out of the World Cup quota SMS saga, the most worried man in South Africa must be Heyneke Meyer.

The Springbok coach has enough to stress about given that his captain elect is recovering from major knee surgery, his No?2 has undergone running repairs and his No?3 isn’t even playing rugby.

Word is Jean de Villiers is making amazing progress, Victor Matfield’s ageing knee needed no more than a buffing up of the cartilage, while Fourie du Preez has been given a free pass to sit out of Super Rugby. Not ideal with less than 150 days to go.

Added to this, two young locks – Pieter-Steph du Toit and Lood de Jager – are crocked.

Key backs Patrick Lambie (neck) and Willie le Roux (ankle) have joined the casualty list with injuries the medicos say will heal, but Meyer has been around long enough to know that damage that requires long absences can easily go from curable to chronic.

Each week brings tidings of new injuries and, while a part of Meyer might not mind some of his men getting a form of rest, he must worry that the injury bogey might pick on a key player such as Handré Pollard.

But injuries are not his greatest concern – South African rugby has plenty of depth and, when they occur, a new plan is always made.

What would really have bothered the Bok coach was watching Cricket SA CEO Haroon Lorgat tap-dancing around the transformation issue that marred the Proteas’ semifinal against New Zealand in their World Cup.

Meyer must wonder what is in store for him. Will he receive a message from on high to include a certain number of black players in his rugby World Cup squad of 31?

Will he be told that the match-day teams have to comply with transformation targets?

In cricket, the alleged controversy broke out because coach Russell Domingo was supposedly instructed, via SMS, to replace Kyle Abbott with Vernon Philander to conform with an agreement that the 11-man team should have four “players of colour” – to use sports officials’ awkward phrase to describe dark skin.

The push therefore is for about one-third (36%) to be black.

For Meyer, that would translate into five players in the run-on 15 and eight players in the match-day 23. Those who see nothing but the numbers will be looking out for 11 black players in the 31 who travel to England.

In 13 tests last year, Meyer did not once reach those figures. The highest proportion of players of colour – though to describe them as such is an insult to the likes of Bryan Habana, JP Pietersen, Tendai Mtawarira and the others who were all merit selections – in any one 15 was four in the starting line-up and six in the squad of 23.

There are of course many other factors for a coach to consider in a World Cup tournament, and for Meyer, a big worry is what if he loses one of his key black players?

What if Habana or Mtawarira go down? Often the next best player is not black; a white player comes and disturbs the delicate balance.

Football and cricket’s big tournaments have come and gone with disappointment, so rugby is the last chance for South Africa to shine on the world stage this year.

Hopefully the SA Rugby Union and everyone else concerned are talking; hopefully they are all on the same page; hopefully Meyer knows what he can and can’t do.

And hopefully he knows that, should he have to pick a team that does not display the right demographics to win a match, the Springboks’ efforts will not be sullied in the same way AB de Villiers’ and the Proteas’ were.

Follow me on Twitter @retiefdan.co.za

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