The Springboks host the English in less than three weeks’ time, and we continue our look at the possible team selected by coach Heyneke Meyer. Today we look at the halfbacks, probably one of the easier combinations to predict when it comes to that first test in Durban on 9 June 2012.
Again the question arises whether the coach will look to two individual players or a combination of halfbacks that play together at the same franchise. In this case, it is pretty simple as the best two players are in fact playing week in and week out for the Bulls, being Francois Hougaard and Morne Steyn.
Looking at the number 9 jersey first, there is only really one player that has put up his hand and is almost guaranteed selection, with Francois Hougaard being in great form for the Bulls, helping them sit as high on the log as they currently do. He is the most rounded scrumhalf in the country, with the crispest of passes, speed and accuracy in those passes as well as having that little something extra, that air of unpredictability, that X-factor. Oh, did I mention he has a pretty decent boot on him as well?
So the 9 jersey is pretty much wrapped up, but there will always be more than one in the squad announcement, and this is where it gets tricky. No other scrumhalf stands out as a second in line, in case something might happen to Hougaard. The bench of the bunch is probably Dewaldt Duvenhage, who has been getting all the game time down in the Cape, and is a solid player, albeit slightly unspectacular.
Duvenhage has experience on his side, having played all of 50 Super Rugby matches already, even though he is only 24 years old. Now I know experience does not count much, but as a solid backup, I think he can do the job.
Should Meyer go looking elsewhere, there is always the Ruan Pienaar option. He has been in amazing form for his club in Europe and even being nominated as the player of the year for the campaign as a whole. We know that he can be a gamebreaker, and has a very good boot on him as well, both from behind the ruck and at goal. I hate to say this, but his versatility from the bench also adds weight to his inclusion.
Scrumhalves that I haven’t considered but that are available include the Cheetahs pair of Piet van Zyl and Tewis de Bruyn, both whom I feel are simply not up to standard, the Lions pair of Ross Cronje and Tian Meyer, who both just do not have the experience or the ability to step into a Bok jersey. Charl McLeod from the Sharks has been poor all season, and will not be able to stake a claim on current form. Sarel Pretorius, currently playing for the Waratahs, is also not in the greatest form, and cannot be considered, as well as being counted as an ‘overseas’ player.
Shifting our attention to the flyhalf position, it is not as straight forward as the position discussed above, with a few more players putting up their hand with so good form shown so far this season. Starting with the favourite, Morne Steyn recently played his 100th Super Rugby match, and will almost certainly be the number ten come 9 June.
He has the necessary experience and has been in decent form so far this year. He plays the type of game that Heyneke Meyer likes, and does it well. His connection with Francois Hougaard also counts in his favour, the only part of his game that perhaps is slipping a bit is his goal kicking accuracy.
The media especially, were calling for young Johan Goosen to be second in line during this series, fast tracking him at a very young age, but he has since injured himself, ruling him out until Currie Cup time. Whether he would have made the squad, we will never know. Based on his selection for the Junior World Championships to take place at the same time as the test series against England, indicates that Meyer was not yet ready to risk the player.
Another player to consider for the ten jersey is the Stormers pivot, Peter Grant, who has been playing very good rugby for the Stormers, being part of the table topping team. He has more of an attacking flair than Morne Steyn does, yet his team as whole fail to score tries, which does count against him. His kicking record is outstanding, with a 90%+ average for the year so far.
Pat Lambie is another name one can throw in the hat, with the youngster playing the full Super Rugby season at flyhalf, instead of at fullback, which is where he featured during the World Cup for The Boks. He is the most attacking minded flyhalf in the country, with sniping breaks being his trademark. He has shone at the Sharks, taking into consideration that his service from McLeod has been inconsistent and poor at times. His kicking accuracy has improved dramatically, with one of his flaws being that he tends to miss the attacking penalties when going for the sideline.
Elton Jantjies has been in the Springbok mix before, playing one game against the Barbarians and not getting a chance since. His form at the Lions has been nothing to write home about, whether that is due to his own form or whether it is the form of the team and reversing pack he playing behind, is debatable. Personally, I cannot see him being involved in this squad, and will have to have a very good Currie Cup and potentially find himself another union if he wants to wear the Green and Gold again.
Meyer’s probable pick:
Ferguson’s form pick: