Meyer determined to make the most of what he's got
SOUTH AFRICA CAMP:Five days out and Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has the team doctor Craig Roberts flanking him, tweaks, strains knocks and torn muscles on the tip of his tongue. These past few days have seen injured players on both sides stack up as Declan Kidney and Meyer venture into territory where denials that wholly recognisable teams will arrive on the Aviva pitch have a strong whiff of truth.
“There were concerns about Adriaan Strauss’s knee and Francois Louw’s neck, but they are fine. Jean de Villiers will do a little running in training today,” said Dr Roberts.
Bryan Habana has been ruled out with a knee injury, while Coenie Oosthuizen, Bismarck du Plessis, Tiaan Liebenberg, Andries Bekker, Siya Kolisi, Jacques Potgieter, Pierre Spies, Johan Goosen and Frans Steyn are also missing. Schalk Burger, Juan Smith and Heinrich Brüssow have been more long term.
“One area I’m concerned about is five lock,” says Meyer. “But the area I want to get a clear view of is tighthead. That’s the main thing I’m worried about. We’ve three great outhalves coming through. All have one or two weaknesses they have to work on.”
Straight-talking, Bok style, Meyer has concerns but milking ill fortune for what he can, he must also try to see opportunity against an Ireland team he lathers in kind words.
The 60-0 hiding by the All Blacks during the summer tour he makes sound like a venial, daily affliction that anyone might suffer, while Ireland’s temerity in snatching their players like Richardt Strauss and CJ Stander is the shape of modern rugby.
“If you look at that series they (Ireland) could have won the second Test. They played superbly. They could have won the match,” he says.
“You can’t just look at one performance. The All Blacks are the type of team that if they catch you on a certain day they can score quick tries and you have to chase the game. That’s what happened us in the last Test match as well.”
Meyer seems far from one who is getting his excuses in first. The freight of his language carries more diplomacy than arrogance, which the Springboks generally see as simple straight-talking.
Stander he rates as a good prospect. But at the heart of it you feel that for every Richardt Strauss, there is bespoke Schalk Brits and for every Stander, there is a plethora of brothy ’Boks with genetic dispositions for the loose forward positions.
Still, Ireland’s intentions haven’t gone unnoticed.
“Yes, obviously concerned,” says Meyer about Ireland’s poaching of promising Boks. “You want the best players in South Africa. If you look at the amount of youngsters we had to use this year . . . yesterday I just went through the players playing overseas and you’d get an unbelievably strong Springboks side just from the players overseas. Every single position there is a great player.
“While CJ is a brilliant loose forward he could easily get on and play for Ireland. He’s good enough. Then again South Africa has so many loose forwards. It’s a professional game. They have to look after their families and their future.
“Hopefully, he’ll come back but I understand that if he gets on the pitch he’s probably good enough to play for Ireland. That’s the modern game.”
Stoic can be good, especially when there’s little alternative and Meyer seems clear that Dublin begins a voyage of discovery. He will pick his team tomorrow and given the defections to European sides, a premium will be put on players who “really want to play for South Africa” after what has been a long domestic season extended by Tests against Ireland, Wales and England.
“There’s no excuses. You represent your country and your family. You commit to excellence and to a work ethic,” he says. “I want to see guys who can play away from home under certain conditions. It is the final hurdle for players to show they really want to be part of this team. It’s a total new team and with the next World Cup in England we have to learn to play tactically as well.”
The experienced Morne Steyn and his 41 successful consecutive kicks at goal in 2010, Patrick Lambie and Elton Jantjies are the three jostling for the 10 shirt. But from this far out from the game it’s all semaphore and feinting.
“It happened so many times that you pick a so called second rate player and their form is better than the guy that’s in the position,” he says. “They really want to prove that they can stay there.”
Ireland’s call to arms, it seems, as much as Meyer’s.