Springbok coach Peter de Villiers is poised to make some big calls as his squad gets down to the serious business on Monday of preparing for the season’s opening test match against Wales at Vodacom Park in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
Gavin Rich writes on Superrugby that De Villiers starts the buildup in a very different place to where Jake White was at the corresponding stage of his tenure. Four years ago, the Boks were thought to be in disarray as they prepared for the match against Ireland at the same venue.
The Irish, like the Welsh are now, were the de facto Home Union champions after winning the Triple Crown, while the Boks had been blown away at the previous World Cup and White’s plans had been severely disrupted by a swathe of injuries.
There have been injuries in the buildup this year, and Fourie du Preez will certainly be missed until he makes his return to international rugby in August, but nothing like 2004. And unlike back then, the Boks are not rebuilding, or at least they should not be, for they start the season as the reigning world champions. They have the winning habit, they do not need to establish it, and most of the players who were part of the World Cup triumph were available for selection.
De Villiers will be wise then to stick with the core of the team that won the World Cup, which he is expected to do. There will be departures from the tried and trusted formula, however, and the selections of Conrad Jantjes and Andries Bekker ahead of World Cup veterans Percy Montgomery and Victor Matfield respectively are possibly designed at making a psychological point to the players.
In the first instance, he is rewarding the newcomers for their excellent Super 14 form, something that many felt the previous coach did not do enough of, and in the second instance, he is letting the players know that no-one is a certainty for selection (well, at least no-one outside of the appointed captain, John Smit).
There could well be another World Cup winner missing from the starting team, and maybe even the entire match 22, on Saturday. Sharks centre Adrian Jacobs, who has not played Test rugby since 2002, is expected to be selected as the midfield partner to Jean de Villiers, which will mean no place for the precocious and prodigiously talented Francois Steyn.
The Sharks centre did not take up position in the shadow team that ran a structure session in Stellenbosch on Thursday, but he was on the sidelines nursing a minor injury.
The problem for the Boks is that a player like Jacobs might be able to perform against the weakened Welsh, which could leave the new coach going into the much tougher Tri-Nations fixtures with a false impression of what the player can do.
It is interesting to note that all four sessions prior to the team announcement in Bloemfontein will be closed to the media. This may or may not be because De Villiers is still deliberating over his combinations.
De Villiers did say at the outset that he would like all sessions, where possible, to be open to both media and public, so this does seem quite an early departure from what was intended. But it was also obvious from Thursday’s session that the Boks under De Villiers will be employing a much more structured approach than initially anticipated.
This being so, it would not make rugby sense for De Villiers to permit a large crowd to attend the crucial sessions in the build-up week as it would be easy then for the Welsh to get observers in to note the Bok moves. If this happened, it could provide the opposition with a massive leg-up in Bloemfontein.
Probable Bok starting team: Conrad Jantjes, Tonderai Chavhanga, Adrian Jacobs, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana, Butch James, Ricky Januarie, Pierre Spies, Juan Smith, Luke Watson, Andries Bekker, Bakkies Botha, Brian Mujati, John Smit (captain), Gurthro Steenkamp.Tweet