Johannesburg - Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer is looking to Fourie du Preez to have the same sort of impact that veteran Wallaby George Smith had on the Brumbies and Wallabies in the upcoming Rugby Championship.
The supersport.com website reports that Meyer and 21 members of his squad came together in Johannesburg on Monday to begin their preparations for the Southern Hemisphere tournament, but with 10 players still overseas because of their club commitments, the Boks’ training was severely hampered.
Still, the Bok mentor admitted he had to convince Du Preez to come back and give it one more shot, and hopes that his experience and rugby nuance will be the perfect fit for the national team, not only in these three Tests he is available, but also towards the World Cup.
Describing the move to bring the World Cup-winner back, Meyer said it was a "long-term vision” and that Du Preez had been part of his plans from the start.
"I believe that Fourie du Preez is a world class player, he has always been part of my plans from the start but unfortunately he wasn’t available.
"I had a lot of discussions with Fourie and he is still very keen to play for his country and I believe he is still one of the best scrumhalves in the world.
"With Francois Hougaard injured, at this stage we are a bit thin on nines," Meyer told journalists.
"I also want to make sure I take the best nine (scrumhalf) to the Rugby World Cup.
"I have to look at Fourie and he will be available for five or six Test matches.
"I don’t want to get into a situation just before the World Cup where I don’t have scrumhalves and we aren’t sure about depth."
The recent rise of veteran George Smith – the other marquee player at the Suntory Sungoliaths in Japan where Du Preez plays – and his impact in lifting his Brumbies side to the final of Super Rugby, as well as his impact in the British and Irish Lions tour had struck a chord with Meyer.
Du Preez has always been a loyal servant of SA Rugby, and despite critics of Japanese rugby believing it to be a level below Super Rugby, the rest and lighter load on players have certainly worked in cases like Smith where it allows talent to prolong careers.
Meyer knows just how influential the former Bulls and Bok halfback can be and thinks he can add a lot of value to the squad.
"If you look at a guy like George Smith, what he meant for the Brumbies?
"He plays for the same club as Fourie and is still playing great rugby and made a big difference.
"Fourie is a great player, he can dictate the game and is a great leader that can help the youngsters as well.
"He needs to be picked on merit and show he is the best.
"He will get the opportunity to train with the squad now and we will see how he goes.
"If he is good enough he will be selected.
"This is more a long-term vision.
"I want to see what Fourie can add and what he can bring to this side.
"By next year he will probably be available for all the Test matches and specifically in the World Cup he will be available.
"I’m thankful he wants to play for South Africa."
Despite concerns over the Japanese League’s quality of play, Meyer said his management team and the national selectors had poured over Du Preez’s games before they came to the decision.
"My coaching staff and selectors have footage of all the games and we’ve watched him play in the Japanese league.
"I still think he is a quality player and a world class player.
"The one thing he can bring to the side is leadership.
"His team won their championship and wherever he goes, he is the type of player who can make a side win," Meyer added.
"He first has to earn that right though but I’ve watched a lot of his games, and he was superb.
"I know a lot of guys will say it is at a lower level, but George Smith proved what good rugby he can play.
"This is the first step to look at Fourie, next year is the vital year where going forward I want to be close to a World Cup squad."
And those with good memories will recall how influential an in-form Du Preez can be.
Meyer’s move to offer him a Bok lifeline may look strange to some, but it could turn out to be the master stroke of his career as Bok coach.