With the focus quite clearly on RWC 2015, Tank Lanning can understand recalls for a few Bok stalwarts, but is less understanding of the strategy, or lack thereof, to find the next Bok tighthead.
The starting XV, or even match day 23 that Bok coach Heyneke Meyer selects from his Springbok squad to tour to Wales, Scotland and France on Saturday will be very similar to the one selected for the Rugby Championship, and enjoy similar results to those achieved against Australia and Argentina. It’s a bloody strong squad, and I believe Springbok rugby to be in rude health right now!
But a larger squad such as the 32 man one announced yesterday does give us a lot more insight into the mind of the Bok coach, and his plans for the future.
And quite clearly that future is fairly immediate, no doubt coming in the form of the 2015 World Cup in London, hence the recall of the likes of Bakkies Botha, Jaque Fourie and JP Pietersen, all plying their trade overseas, and having last seen action in green and gold a while back.
That they are class players is not up for debate, but this obsession with World Cups, along with the selection of overseas based players, is. Coaches love a little “Judge me on our World Cup performance”, hence our tendency to focus on these four year cycles rather than Springbok rugby in general, with a view to growing the base of players that could step up to the international plate. It gets my goat, but I can fully understand and appreciate the pressure on coaches to perform at these very high profile tournaments.
The selection of overseas based players is a contentious topic, and one that has been debated ferociously. I am anti their selection for a variety of reasons, but can also understand a coach wanting to select his best possible team. Quite clearly, the policy in place allows their selection. That then, has to end all moaning about players leaving South Africa, and must make every single overseas based player available for Bok selection.
So based on the above, back to the squad …
The biggest clanger is the non-selection of Lourens Adriaanse. How the hell do you drag him round the Southern hemisphere, carrying bags while gaining Bok squad experience, and then dump him at the very time that he should be getting his first Bok start? Tighthead prop is perhaps the one position where we do not know who our second best player is. Jannie du Plessis – much chastised for his frailty on defence and lack of discipline – is pure gold in terms of his primary job – scrumming. With a broken hand, he should be braaiing at San Lameer while the likes of Coenie Oosthuizen, Adriaanse and CJ van der Linde get starts on tour to vie for that backup spot. I, for one, am desperate to see Oosthuizen get a start at tighthead. Even if just to put the debate to rest. Pass the test, and I will apologise to Meyer and shut up. Fail, and Meyer needs to implement plan B!
And on the other side of the scrum, do we really need Beast Mtawarira to prove again what he can do? Is it not an ideal time to expose a guy like Steven Kitshoff to the Bok environment? Or perhaps forgive Trevor Nyakane for his earlier sins? It would also be fair on Oosthuizen to give him a start in his preferred position. Is it a position where we need to select an overseas based journeyman like Gurthro Steenkamp?
What is Patrick Lambie? A flyhalf? A fullback? Or a dreaded utility back on a fast track to Bok ingnomy? Why take Zane Kirchner on tour? Instead starts at full back for Lambie, Wille le Roux and Gio Aplon?
Obviously the most ferocious debate has been around the selections of Louis Schreuder and Scarra Ntubeni. It might be a little early for the latter, but my word he has been good for WP and the Stormers this year. He is a good player. How the former jumps the queue ahead of Piet van Zyl (like Adriaanse, has he been given a fair crack?) and Jano Vermaak is beyond me, especially after his two step pass was so badly exposed in the final on Saturday. That said, both these guys are third choice selections on a short 3 match tour. All they will do is carry bags.
As said up front, this is an extremely strong Bok squad, and one most nations would die for. I just wonder if we are missing on opportunity to take a look at second tier players with a view to building squad depth?
Springbok squad for the end of year tour:
Backs: Zane Kirchner, Gio Aplon, Willie le Roux, JP Pietersen, Bryan Habana, JJ Engelbrecht, Jaque Fourie, Jean de Villiers, Jan Serfontein, Morné Steyn, Johan Goosen, Pat Lambie, Fourie du Preez, Ruan Pienaar, Louis Schreuder
Forwards: Duane Vermeulen, Siya Kolisi, Francois Louw, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Flip van der Merwe, Bakkies Botha, Jannie du Plessis, Frans Malherbe, Coenie Oosthuizen, Gurthro Steenkamp, Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Scarra Ntubeni
This column first appeared on eNCA.com