England tour of South Africa
Execution over innovation
June 3, 2012
Jean de Villiers is in-line to captain South Africa in their three-Test series against England © Getty Images
If there is one thing that England don't have to worry about going into the first Test against South Africa in Durban, it's that the Springboks will come up with much that is unorthodox.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer on Saturday evening announced a squad with plenty of size and spelled out a game plan based on pummelling England into submission. He spoke of the virtues of big loose forwards running at the English, mauling, tactical kicking and defence.
His Bulls sides always played with the motto of execution over innovation, and Meyer is set to follow the same path with the Boks. It is based on traditional South African strengths, he argues. Little wonder then that it was the small men who missed out in a squad full of surprises. There was no Heinrich Brüssow, Gio Aplon or Juan de Jongh.
Meyer believes the interpretations of the laws have passed Brüssow by, pointing to statistics that the price the traditional fetching flanks pay in penalties is not worth the gain of turnover possession. In fact, it's the hookers that now win most of the turnover possession and prop Coenie Oosthuizen even won more than some of the opensides.
Meyer has also decided against the dancing feet of Aplon and De Jongh. Remarkably, he has picked the larger JJ Engelbrecht over De Jongh. Engelbrecht is a wing who has successfully been converted to an outside centre and Meyer believes that in time he will become world class. For now, however, he has stated his preference for Jean de Villiers at outside centre, with Frans Steyn set to play on his inside.
De Villiers is also likely to captain the Boks after Fourie du Preez was not selected. Du Preez told Meyer that he was unsure whether he would be on top form as he hadn't played rugby for two-and-a-half months. He is in the plans going forward, but for now there is a terrific opportunity for young Francois Hougaard to settle in at scrum-half. The Ulster-based scrum-half Ruan Pienaar is also in the squad and apart from his challenge for the No.9 jersey can come in very handy for a substitutes bench. He can cover every position in the backline.
Meyer's choice of loose forwards was interesting. Marcell Coetzee is a big openside flank who carries the ball particularly well. Keegan Daniel, who has done well captaining the Sharks from No.8, is the other opensider in the squad. Unfortunately both Schalk Burger and Duane Vermeulen are injured, so Meyer will not have his preferred loose-trio. Vermeulen, who played superb rugby for the Stormers before suffering a major knee injury, would have been the first-choice No.8. Burger would naturally have been on the openside and would also have been a strong candidate to lead the side.
Vermeulen's injury would have come as a relief to Pierre Spies, whose form has not been good this year. Ryan Kankowski was also included as a No.8. If one had to venture a guess for a loose forward combination for the first test it would be Coetzee, Willem Alberts and Spies.
The situation at lock is also interesting following the back injury sustained by Andries Bekker. With IRB regulations standing in the way of a comeback for Victor Matfield, the No 5 jersey will probably be handed to the uncapped Juandré Kruger. Bekker's lock partner at the Stormers, Eben Etzebeth, is also there after distinguishing himself as Super Rugby's form lock.
But it remains to be seen whether Meyer will be prepared to field a lock partnership without a single cap between them. So don't be surprised if Flip van der Merwe wears No 4 and Etzebeth's introduction to test rugby is off the bench. Tough and uncompromising, Etzebeth is a bruiser in the mould of Bakkies Botha, but a smarter and more disciplined player.
With so little time to prepare, Meyer will no doubt be tempted to opt for combinations and therefore the Sharks trio of Beast Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis and Jannie du Plessis could make up the front row. A Bulls lock partnership of Van der Merwe and Kruger behind them will again be a tempting prospect for Meyer as it offers him the comfort of a degree of cohesion.
Bryan Habana has also hit some good form on the wing for the Stormers and will compete for the No.11 jersey with try-scoring machine Lwazi Mvovo. Habana may well be picked on the basis that his 74 caps make him the most experienced member of the squad.
We should not look further than Morné Steyn as the fly-half. There is nothing flash about him, but he's a good tactical kicker and has ice in his veins when it comes to important kicks at goal.
It is a squad that many will consider a little controversial given the players that were overlooked, but it was clearly picked with a specific game plan in mind. Whatever the ultimate outcome, England are likely to nurse plenty of bumps and bruises throughout the series.
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