Heyneke has reason to smile

Johannesburg - The injury that will keep Jean de Villiers out of the June international season should have introduced some extra stress that he probably feels he could do without, but Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer should nonetheless be feeling more upbeat than he might have he anticipated he would be going into his first national training camp of the year.

According to the supersport.com website, little more than a month ago there was a pall of negativity hanging over South African rugby as the Super Rugby teams floundered against overseas opponents.

Even the Sharks at that stage had massive question marks hanging over them as they had just conceded four tries in a home game to the Highlanders and it was the eve of their overseas tour.

No South African team to that point had won in Australasia in 2014 and the synopsis made for dire reading – 12 matches played, 12 lost.

Coupled with that was the fact that the bulk of the South African teams were in the last third of the overall log.

But the negative outlook has steadily changed over the past few weeks, and we have now reached the point where it could be suggested that the South African teams are peaking at just the right time.

The Lions did lose all their games in New Zealand and Australia, but you could argue that they were unlucky against both the Highlanders (that conversion kick should have been ordered to be taken again) and against the Western Force in Perth this past weekend.

Talking of the Force, perhaps South African teams still aren’t making their home grounds the fortresses that they should be. The Force won in Bloemfontein during their tour and they shouldn’t have been expected to.

However, the Cheetahs made up for that lapse by breaking the momentum of the Cheetahs the following weekend, and the Stormers gave the Force such a whipping at Newlands that it seriously eroded their pretensions to be contenders.

Talking of the Stormers, they have been in resurgent mood since the Easter weekend, when they beat the Lions, and are now playing with the confidence that was lacking in the early weeks of the season.

The arrival of Gert Smal as Western Province director of rugby has clearly added a much needed extra voice that has brought greater clarity to the change-room, and the late season spurt by the Cape team has delivered a clutch of players to Meyer’s training camp that are now in good form and can add to his options.

It is the Sharks players though who Meyer can draw on during the training camp in Durban to bolster the overall confidence of his squad. Not only did they make history by beating the Crusaders on their home ground when reduced to 14 men, they followed up by beating the Blues in Auckland.

Again it wasn’t pretty from the Sharks, but then the results, which reflect two away matches played in New Zealand and two games won, underlined what template should be used against the Kiwis.

It isn’t that different from the Meyer template, so as well as bringing confidence that should bring some certainty.

The Bulls players in the Bok training camp should also have a bit of a strut about them. They were beaten in all four games overseas but since their return they have continued the good Loftus form that they boasted before they departed.

And while the Cheetahs were humbled by the Stormers this past weekend, they also have players, such as Johan Goosen and Heinrich Brussow, who showed good form before that.

It now looks as though Meyer may be prepared to give Goosen his opportunity by playing him ahead of Morne Steyn in the forthcoming matches, which start with the clash with Nick Mallett’s World XV at Newlands on 7 June before proceeding to Durban and Nelspruit for the two test series against Wales and concluding with the meeting with Scotland in Port Elizabeth on 28 June.

Even the injuries that have hampered some of the teams in Super Rugby may have brought Meyer a silver-lining.

For instance Stephan Lewies has grown in stature at the Sharks since the injury to Pieter-Steph du Toit, and the early season injury to Paul Jordaan gave S’bura Sithole a chance to excel in the No 13 jersey that he has grabbed with both hands.

Jean de Villiers’ periodic absences from the Stormers midfield gave Damian de Allende a chance to impress in his preferred position of inside centre and the absence of his franchise captain from the squad for the June tests might just give him a chance to survive the weekend cut.

While the South African stakes have soared in Super Rugby over the past month, the strong momentum that was being enjoyed by the Australians has been arrested slightly.

The Brumbies were well beaten in successive weekends by the Cheetahs and Bulls respectively and are now seventh on the log, and while the Force are still in the mix, their big defeat to the Stormers exposed their vulnerabilities and they shouldn’t be a threat to the top teams.

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