Injuries to key senior players and problems associated with getting overseas based players released in time for tests has prompted a change in thinking for Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer’s around the squad he will select for the 3-test series against England.
Meyer confirmed to the press that his ‘initial’ team and squad he had in mind for the tests has changed considerably over the last couple of weeks and that he has gained a lot more faith in the younger, less experienced players following his Springbok planning camps.
This will no doubt come as a relief to many supporters who were slightly stunned when it was revealed that Meyer was looking to bring back a host of players from Japan and Europe to take on the Poms including convincing Victor Matfield to come out of retirement to lead the side.
It is understandable that Meyer wanted to go into his first test series as Bok coach with some confidence where bringing in players he has a strong bond with and worked with before with some success would have given him that.
The planning camps however seemed to give Meyer some re-assurance that investing in a young, more diverse group of players than he initially planned might not be such a bad idea or as big a risk – and given his statements on the candidates he is considering to take on a captaincy and leadership roles in the team it would seem he might have had a slight change of heart in this area too.
Upon his appointment Meyer made it clear that he is well aware of the perceptions surrounding his affiliation with the Bulls rugby union given the long and successful history he had with them. He went as far as to say that when he will need to make a 50/50 call on two players and one of them happens to be from the Bulls, they might actually get the shorter end of the stick. The assurance this gave supporters was shattered when it became public knowledge that Meyer is seriously considering bringing Matfield out of retirement to lead the side on a temporary basis.
A week ago I wrote how Meyer must be careful not to divide public and media support through his actions or words because in South African rugby, perceptions sometimes means more than actual results. It is this pressure that could possible have forced Meyer to approach the national planning camps differently, and the results are positive.
Apart from a fresh approach to possible include more young or inexperienced players, Meyer is also weighing up his captaincy options. It has been reported that Meyer has been quite impressed with the franchise captains he has worked with in the planning camps so far feeling a lot more confident in possible selecting his leadership core from players currently playing at franchises.
Names that Meyer has mentioned as good leaders include the likes of Schalk Burger, Jean de Villiers, Pierre Spies, Keegan Daniel, Josh Strauss and Adriaan Strauss – and it’s the latter’s name you should take note of.
Schalk Burger is suffering from a long-term injury which is likely to rule him out of the England series and it is also well known that Meyer quite fancies the option of Frans Steyn at inside centre which might make it difficult to select Jean in a captaincy role. In Spies Meyer has a player he knows well but it is only his first season as captain. The main problem he will have with Josh Strauss and Keegan Daniel is justifying a starting position for them in the Springbok team which leaves a player Meyer has known and rated for some time, Adriaan Strauss.
A private conversation I had recently centered around the importance not only of the public buying into Heyneke Meyer’s vision as Bok coach, but also how the players, specifically non-Bulls players buys into an all-Bulls coaching team’s vision. Sure, they are all professionals as some may argue, but they are also only human and if they walk into an environment knowing that a certain section of players (Bulls players) have an established relationship and level of trust with the management staff, you will naturally feel somewhat disadvantaged.
For my money, choosing a team or squad for the England test series that rewards current form and loyalty to players playing in South African and Super Rugby will go a long way to keep the supporting public happy. Choosing a captain, and a fairly neutral one at that in the form of Adriaan Strauss who is not only a great leader, but playing some of the best rugby of his life justifying selection above captaincy for the England series, will go a long way in building trust amongst the players irrespective of which union they represent.