Cape Town – The plus side of the Springboks’ cupboard of resources at scrumhalf for the World Cup is the enormous experience brought by both expected front-liners for the spot, Fourie du Preez and Ruan Pienaar.
Between them, they boast a formidable 154 Test appearances, and also have in common the knowledge that they will be playing in third successive RWCs – both are survivors not only of 2011, but also the triumphant 2007 squad.
Yet at 33 and 31 respectively, the pair will do well to dispel creeping fears that they are significantly on the receding side – like Du Preez’s hairline -- of their often illustrious careers.
That applies particularly to the former, a situation only compounded by the acute lack of Test or even first-class game-time he has had in recent months.
Coach Heyneke Meyer is clearly as aware as anyone of the enormous value a fresh, sharp Du Preez could bring to his World Cup brew ... that is why he has stuck so determinedly to him in his planning, even as the maestro’s gradual rehabilitation from injury has been marked by setbacks and swirling readiness uncertainties.
The ex-Bulls icon has a “’presence” and visionary quality that you can’t just buy with your boerewors and Blitz at the corner supermarket.
But it is more in hope than really giddy expectation (Du Preez last played in green and gold against Scotland at Port Elizabeth in June last year) that many local onlookers will digest the likelihood that he will be on the plane to the UK.
The undercooked Du Preez needs to hit the ground running and get as much on-field time as possible in some of the more lightweight Bok pool matches if he is to have a shot at being seriously influential when the knockout rigours come around.
Otherwise, expect Meyer to fall back on Pienaar, to whom he has been just as faithful recently as next best option at scrumhalf.
The Ulster-based customer is increasingly well-schooled in northern hemisphere conditions and has a sound tactical boot, which is comforting, but he also struggles to produce truly game-breaking qualities when at halfback for the Boks these days; a shame considering he has previously shown fine stepping and swerving skills.
A perception also lingers that he sometimes clears the ball a vital second or two too slowly.
Outside of the old firm, nippy Sharks terrier Cobus Reinach has been Meyer’s next preferred cab off the No 9 rank this season, although his place as third RWC tourist in the specialist position could come under threat from the Bulls’ up-tempo, sometimes under-valued Rudy Paige.
The coach has to bear transformation requirements in mind in the make-up of his squad, and the 26-year-old man from Riversdale, who has been among the broader training squad in Durban, ticks that box – although no prior Test airing for Paige is a bit of a drawback.
Boks’ scrumhalf depth rating ahead of RWC 2015: 5.5/10 (If Du Preez very quickly relives past majesty at the tournament, that iffy figure might be hiked considerably.)
*Scrumhalves in last RWC squad (2011): Du Preez, Pienaar and Francois Hougaard (versatile). Du Preez started every game for SA, save for the 87-0 group-stage rout of Namibia when Hougaard – perhaps too late, on a fresh upward curve with the Blue Bulls in the Currie Cup this season -- was at No 9.
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