London – Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has all but confirmed a remarkable development, considering the mass woes perpetually suffered earlier in the year: a clean bill of squad health as they prepare to enter the critical knockout phase of RWC 2015.
Speaking at the press conference immediately following their Pool B-clinching 64-0 thrashing of the United States at the Olympic Stadium here on Wednesday, he told Sport24 he believed his match-day 23 had come through – pending the all-clear from medical staff -- without any serious injuries to report.
It was a gratifying statement for him to be able to make, considering that some eyebrows had been raised over his virtual “first-team” selection despite the game coming so soon after the previous one against Scotland in Newcastle.
But by laying solid foundations via the majority of his senior personnel all over again, the Boks were able to open enough of a lead against the minnows to justify significant plunder of his bench resources even before the hour mark was reached.
Only one of his impressively industrious, starting tight-five – Eben Etzebeth – was eventually required to complete the entire match, limiting the threat of burnout in a particularly demanding area, and the Boks now have the luxury of a 10-day gap anyway ahead of their quarter-final against either Wales or Australia.
If that welcome break is enough to get first-choice right wing JP Pietersen suitably fit again, then the Boks, touch wood, will be in the very advantageous position of all 31 members of their tournament squad being in the mix for the outset of the knockout phase.
Bear in mind that Meyer had indicated before the USA game that both Victor Matfield and Jannie du Plessis, who have been carrying niggles, could have been considered for their pool-ending fixture at a push.
“I’m very happy we came through (seemingly unscathed) against the US ... there are some bumps and bruises and the doc (Craig Roberts) is with the guys right now but I don’t believe there are any major, major injuries to deal with,” he explained.
“So we are really blessed and lucky on that front.
“We have a good break now and will need to come back fresh (for the knockouts). I wouldn’t say surprised, necessarily, but I am happy with the way we came through this particular game because we weren’t sharp initially.
“You’d (expect) that perhaps in a three-day turnaround: it was the first time I have experienced that phenomenon as national coach. I was also happy with the fresh players who came on (off the bench): we stuck to our structure.
“The guys really all put their bodies on the line, and the senior ones (especially). But some younger players (stood up too) ... they might not have been carrying as many knocks and bruises, but the defence of Handre (Pollard), Damian (de Allende) and Jesse (Kriel) was excellent, and performance of the two locks ... perhaps those were the most pleasing aspects of the game to me.”
Meyer can now feel more justified, too, in having fielded for the third time in some 11 days several players who had been drastically short of match-time ahead of the World Cup.
“Don’t forget that for a guy like Duane Vermeulen this was only his third game (after a long layoff), and Flo (Louw) and Fourie (du Preez) hadn’t played a lot previously either.
“We haven’t been sharp for much of this year; just hadn’t been able to get going. It had been so frustrating ... at one stage, every second game we seemed to lose a captain.
“But I am really happy with the continuity now; a lot of players who had been out are getting properly rugby-fit – a guy like Duane must get a lot of credit alongside Fourie and Schalk (Burger) for the way he’s been running the defence as an experienced player.
“The defence has sometimes been awesome.”
Greater clarity on the Bok squad’s collective health will be given on Sunday evening at a briefing at the team hotel by Dr Roberts, following a few days of well-merited “R & R” for the troops.
But the portents, at long last and at such a pivotal time, seem surprising good ...
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing. Rob is attending the Bok pool phase of RWC 2015 to provide news and analysis for Sport24 readers.