This week the Springboks are in camp at Hazyview, where they are preparing for a game against Scotland on the weekend.
Scotland, as we know, have some players out on tour with the British & Irish Lions and have additionally sent a considerably weakened side to South Africa this June. Testament to this was when they lost, for the first time, to Samoa on Saturday in Durban.
Is this then not the ideal time for South Africa to see EXACTLY where they stand as far as depth is concerned, as well as to give some players the time to get back to form after reduced game time or poor Super Rugby form? When will a golden opportunity like this, to experiment properly, again present itself?
If Heyneke Meyer has the conviction to choose players in his Springbok group, does it not then follow that he must have the conviction and the will to play these players against weaker opposition?
In light of this and in an attempt to increase the core of players ready to take on The Rugby Championship, my feeling is that this is the opportunity to experiment and indeed to cast his net wider. I would play the following side and I will expand on my reasons below:
1. Loosehead – Trevor Nyakane
2. Hooker – Adriaan Strauss (Captain)
3. Tighthead – Lourens Adriaanse
4. Lock – Flip van der Merwe
5. Lock – Eben Etzebeth
6. Openside Flank – Francois Louw
7. Blindside Flank – Pieter “Lappies” Labuschagne
8. Eighthman – Arno Botha
9. Scrumhalf – Francois Hougaard
10. Flyhalf – Patrick Lambie
11. Left Wing – Bjorn Basson
12. Inside Centre – Jan Serfontein
13. Outside Centre – JJ Engelbrecht
14. Right Wing – Bryan Habana
15. Fullback – Willie le Roux
16. Hooker – Chiliboy Ralepelle
17. Loosehead – Coenie Oosthuizen
18. Tighthead – Jannie du Plessis
19. Lock – Franco van der Merwe
20. Looseforward – Siya Kolisi
21. Scrumhalf – Piet van Zyl
22. Flyhalf – Morné Steyn
23. Centre – Robert Ebersohn
The only Overseas player I would play would be Francois Louw. I would play no other players who willingly choose to go earn their money at the money pots of the Euro, the Pound or the Yen.
In the starting lineup, certain players have played a lot of rugby this season and in previous seasons, none more so than Jannie du Plessis, Morné Steyn, Jean de Villiers, Juandré Kruger & Pierre Spies.
Choosing a few fresh rookies like Lourens Adriaanse and Lappies Labuschagne and blooding Siya Kolisi, Piet van Zyl and Robert Ebersohn from the bench will give them Springbok caps, making them inaccessible for any other future National side, increasing the chances to keep them in South Africa longer.
The Springboks need a good captain and Adriaan Strauss deserves that honour this year, so he would be my captain, to lead by example and to provide that experience to the front row.
At lock I would use the experience of Flip van der Merwe and I would experiment with Eben Etzebeth at No 5, seeing as both Andries Bekker and Juandré Kruger will be exchanging their fortunes in South Africa to go after the lucrative lure of money. South Africa needs to find a good No 5 lock going forward.
Amongst the looseforwards one has to be careful to keep the balance amongst the combination correct, with a fetcher at openside, a hard-tackling and strike-running blindsider and a man with hands of gold at the back of the scrum. Leaving Pierre Spies out, serves two purposes, firstly to rest him and secondly to replace him with a harder edge at No 8, in Arno Botha. Let’s see if Arno Botha can possibly be the ideal No 8 the Springboks are looking for, going forward – without compromising the blindside by giving the hard man, Lappies Labuschagne, a go on the blindside. For me a fetcher at openside is non-negotiable, therefore Francois Louw’s inclusion and discarding Marcell Coetzee off the bench in total.
You might ask why I would prefer to start with Francois Hougaard at scrumhalf, and the reason is simple. During the recent Cheetahs / Bulls Super Rugby match, Hougaard (even not in the best of form) totally overshadowed Piet van Zyl (who looked like a deer in the headlights in that game), bettering him in every aspect of that important crunch match. As I already indicated, Ruan Pienaar does not feature for me, he is an overseas player firstly and secondly is terribly slow as the base of the scrums and breakdowns, something we in the Southern Hemisphere simply do not want and cannot tollerate.
Patrick Lambie needs to find his mojo again and I would have Morné Steyn on the bench only as security. I would not play Morné from the bench unless it is imperative to do so in the actual game situation.
I would rest Jean de Villiers and play the Bulls centre combination of Jan Serfontein and JJ Engelbrecht without hesitation, they’ve been a good combo all season. I would have Robert Ebersohn on the bench to cover both centre positions… and I would give him a run with 20 minutes to go to blood him.
In the back three I would keep the weekend past’s combination together, with Bryan Habana in trememdous form on the right wing, Bjorn Basson on the left wing with his sheer pace and with Willie le Roux the X-Factor from fullback.
The gamble in my selection, I guess, comes at scrumtime… but at least I would have a full Cheetahs front row who know one another, playing as they have trained and played all season. I would go to war with this side!
I have no doubt though, that Heyneke Meyer won’t be as bold as I have been… pity.