Next week’s Currie Cup final has several sub-plots, ranging from the Sharks ending a 12-year winless streak to them gaining revenge over the Bulls for a last-minute defeat in last year’s Super 14 final.
But the biggest undercurrent could be whether several fringe players are included in the Springbok touring squad to be named after the match by coach Peter de Villiers.
Craig Ray writes for the Times Online that There was initially confusion over whether the coach was going to take a full-strength squad for the Tests against Wales, Scotland and England, or whether he was going to rest some senior players.
Last month, a spokesman for De Villiers said the coach would rest the players. But, a day later, the SA Rugby Union’s acting managing director, Andy Marinos, declared it would be a full-strength touring squad.
The national convener of selectors, Peter Jooste, confirmed that position.
“It will be a full-strength team — we are going to Europe to win,” Jooste told The Times. “It’s vital that we win.”
This is a clear indication that there will be only a few places in the well-established setup into which Currie Cup stars can force their way. And they’re likely to come from either the Bulls or the Sharks, the two best sides in the competition this year.
Unlike in the Jake White era, when the touring squad was finalised two weeks before the Currie Cup final, under De Villiers it appears that the final itself will give players an opportunity to push for a place.
White’s thinking was that, by selecting the squad well in advance, emotion was taken out of selection. But emotion is a big part of De Villiers’ makeup and it’s the way he prefers to work.
With the core group to be maintained, hooker John Smit should resume the Bok captaincy, as long as he isn’t injured in the final. Bulls lock Victor Matfield and a raft of other World Cup winners should also make the tour.
A player such as Wynand Olivier, who has been overlooked for Bok selection this year, could force his way back into the squad after his strong Currie Cup campaign. It will come down to how the selectors view the role of Francois Steyn.
With a fit-again Jacque Fourie playing good rugby in the last few weeks of the Currie Cup, there is only one centre place in a squad up for grabs. Jean de Villiers and Adi Jacobs have cemented their places as the incumbents, and Fourie is a natural choice — which leaves Steyn and Olivier out. If Steyn is selected as a centre, Olivier will miss out.
Sharks flank Jean Deysel could also earn a place after a superb season. He’s big, strong, fast and skilful — attributes that will come into play in the greasy northern hemisphere conditions.
But his selection could rest on whether Luke Watson is chosen. The controversial flank’s recent comments about vomiting on the Bok jersey have driven the wedge between him and his team-mates deeper. There might be massive discord in the Bok ranks if he is selected. If he is omitted, it creates a gap for Deysel, despite him being a very different player.
Sharks scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar is likely to tour as a third scrumhalf-cum-utility back, and the third-choice hooker (if De Villiers opts for one) is likely to come down to current squad member Andries Strauss and possibly Bulls bench-sitter Chiliboy Ralepelle.
Either way, Jooste made it clear that it would be difficult for fringe players to force their way in.
“We will look at the players in the current squad first and then look beyond ,” Jooste said.Tweet