The Springboks host the English in a three test series in just over two weeks, and while the men that will be wearing the Green and Gold still battle it out on the Super Rugby scene, we can look ahead to an imminent squad announcement.
The last in our series of articles looking at potential Springbok selections by the new coach in charge, Heyneke Meyer, we turn our attention to the back three, the two wingers and the fullback.
We start by looking at the fast men, and Meyer is spoilt for choice in his wing stock at the moment. The question is what his approach will be to selecting his wings. Will he simply go for the on-form flyers, will he be looking to experienced men out wide or will he simply go for the tried and tested, and give the same players that played at the World Cup the jerseys?
For Heyneke to decide which wingers he wants, he will have to choose them in line with what his game plan will be. If he goes for an all-out attack approach, wingers like JP Pietersen, Lwazi Mvovo and Gio Aplon come to mind. Should he wish to employ a kicking game, similar to what the Bulls do, someone like Bjorn Basson will be the ideal candidate. Should the coach go for forward domination, and wanting to select steady hands at the back, the Ndungane brothers and Bryan Habana come to mind. So as you can see, there are a host of players at Meyer’s disposal.
Meyer said soon after his appointment that he will be playing winning rugby, and what exactly that means in terms of game plan and approach, nobody but he himself knows. One thing that is certain though, is that JP Pietersen is a must, whichever plan he chooses. Pietersen, even though he played much of the season so far in the midfield, is a great defender out wide, is good under the high ball since he has seen some time at fullback, and has experience by the bucketload. He also has a burst of speed and is difficult to bring down, should he join the line closer to the breakdown.
Who exactly the other wing will be, we will have to wait for that, but I suspect Meyer will go for Bryan Habana, who has been in decent form so far this season, he comes from within a winning culture at the Stormers, and his eye for an opportunist try counts in his favour. His work rate is also one of the higher rates amongst wingers in South Africa.
Other who could find themselves in the squad are as mentioned above, Bjorn Basson or Lwazi Mvovo, and potentially even one or both of the Ndungane brothers. Gio Aplon could also feature thanks to his ability to fill in at fullback as well.
Moving on to the fullbacks, things dry up a little, as there are no real strong contenders in the position. Zane Kirchner has played a few tests at the back for the Boks, but he is nothing more than solid. His boot might be his saving grace at altitude, but he is limited in terms of both pace and ability to join the line effectively.
Joe Pietersen has had a good season for the Stormers, in terms of solidity at the back, where he is fearless on attack and defence, as well as having the pace of a winger on the counter. His kicking boot as backup to Morne Steyn is another factor that counts in his favour, but he is tiny in stature, and could come undone against the bigger English backs.
The Sharks have two solid fullbacks in Louis Ludik and Riaan Viljoen, but both have numerous factors counting against their inclusion in the Bok squad. Ludik may be solid and consistent, but has his failings in terms of a lack of a kicking boot. Viljoen could have walked into the Bok team had he continued in the form that he showed at the start of the season, but he somewhere fell off the bus, and his inconsistency is a huge factor. He plays much like Frans Steyn in that they will balance the great play with the mediocre.
In Jaco Taute we have a future star in the making, but he has been shifted all over the backline at the Lions, and has been playing in the 12/13 jersey for the last month, if not longer. He may be worth having a look at, in terms of long term planning, but whether he is ready for the step up to International rugby remains to be seen.
There are two more options, but both would entail playing a player out of position. Frans Steyn has been at the back for the Boks, and we all know he can do the job. He is a fantastic tackler, has an eye for a gap and some speed as well, with his massive boot being a huge plus point. The only factor that counts against this is the fact that he does not want to play fullback, and that he is slightly inconsistent, in having moments of brilliance thrown in with moments of ridicule.
The last option would be to play the young Pat Lambie at fullback. He has not seen much time as the last line of defence this season, with a few minutes at the end of every other game for the Sharks not really testament to what he can do from the back. He played there with great aptitude during the World Cup last year, and is an X-factor player, adding more than just his rugby playing talents to the team setup.
Heyneke Meyer has a few tough decisions to make before he announces his first team of his Bok coaching career, and I do not envy his position at all.
Meyer’s probable picks:
Ferguson’s form picks: