Heyneke Meyer has deviated from his usual selection tactics and made drastic changes to the Springbok rugby squad heading to Europe.
As a coach who is frequently criticised for sticking to the tried and trusted, Heyneke Meyer has made a staggering number of changes to the Springbok squad that will play three tests in Europe this month.
Meyer has gradually sifted the wheat from the chaff during the course of the season, so the squad announced on Monday did not initially seem a radical departure. But compare it to the one Meyer selected for the same end-of-season tour in 2012, and the full impact becomes clear.
No fewer than 17 of the 33 players who went on tour last year are absent from this year's 32-man squad. Of that 17, there are three sub-categories: injured, playing overseas and dropped.
The injured trio consists of Jaco Taute, Francois Hougaard and Arno Botha. Pierre Spies was mentioned on Monday, but the Bulls skipper was also injured this time last year and did not tour.
The list of players who have moved overseas this season includes Juandre Kruger, Chilliboy Ralepelle, Jano Vermaak and JC Janse van Rensburg. Schalk Brits had already been campaigning in Europe for some years when he was invited to join the touring party in 2012. It could be argued, of course, that all these players should really be included in the "dropped" list as Meyer has invited back Jaque Fourie and Bakkies Botha, despite the fact that they are still contracted in Japan and France respectively.
If we give the above players the benefit of the doubt, the list of dropped players reads thus: CJ van der Linde, Pat Cilliers, Heinke van der Merwe, Juan de Jongh, Lwazi Mvovo, Elton Jantjies, Lionel Mapoe, Franco van der Merwe and Raymond Rhule. Only Van der Linde could be considered too old in that list, while Heinke van der Merwe was included last year because he was already in Ireland when the front row needed augmenting.
De Jongh seems to have missed out owing to the recall of Fourie, but for the rest, a wake-up call has been sounded. Mvovo and Rhule have been disappointing this year, but both are young enough to push for a place in the future. Mapoe and Franco van der Merwe are not really test-class players, which leaves just Jantjies.
It has been a wretched year for the flyhalf, who lost his father to a freak accident at its beginning and as a result, never settled in with the Stormers after being borrowed from the Lions. When he returned to Johannesburg, Jantjies's form seemed to return, but it may be that the lower level of competition offered by the Currie Cup was a contributing factor.
With Pat Lambie and Morné Steyn in the squad, Jantjies ultimately missed out because Meyer was keen to rush back the fit again Johan Goosen. From what the coach has shared with the media, it seems that the reason for taking so many players on a three-match tour is to "expose them to the Springbok culture".
But whether there is much point in that when as many as 10 are there just to carry the tackle bags is open to question.
Two players in particular have been exposed to some unkind criticism because of their inclusion. They are scrumhalf Louis Schreuder and hooker Siyabonga Ntubeni, both of whom were part of the losing Western Province side in last week's Currie Cup final.
Ntubeni has potential, but it could be argued that as the two players ahead of him – Bismarck du Plessis and Adriaan Strauss – are the best hookers in world rugby, he will have to wait until after the 2015 World Cup for a chance to play test rugby.
As for Schreuder, the real test would come if Fourie du Preez and Ruan Pienaar were to pull up lame 48 hours before a test. Would the coach then select the youngster, or would he fly in an experienced replacement? Rory Kockott at Castres, for instance, has just won the Top 14 player of the season award, while Piet van Zyl and Jano Vermaak have played tests this year.
Ultimately, Meyer will stand or fall by his results and clearly he believes that a number of long-in-the-tooth players have enough left in the tank to make the next World Cup. To that end, he has now brought four decorated Springboks – Du Preez, Botha, JP Pietersen and Fourie – back from the wilderness, while his captain, Jean de Villiers, seems about to continue the glorious Indian summer of his career.
There is, of course, a leavening of youth in the mix. The selection of Goosen, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jan Serfontein and Siya Kolisi, all of whom are not long out of Under 20 rugby, points the way to a bright future. It should also be remembered that Willie le Roux and JJ Engelbrecht have made significant contributions to the Springbok cause this year at the age of 24.
If there is a weakness in this squad it is among the props, where Lourens Adriaanse was called in on Wednesday for the injured Jannie du Plessis, Coenie Oosthuizen has not yet convinced at test level and Frans Malherbe may be out of his depth.
That said, Meyer is in charge of a squad that is the envy of all the other test playing nations.