There’s a spring in Meyer’s step

These are the days to relish for a Springbok coach. Public criticism on hold, plenty of black players in the squad, a promising performance against credible opponents under the belt and more to come this week. Heyneke Meyer will trot out the usual platitudes about Scotland being no pushovers but in his heart of hearts he knows that he is in charge of a team that should put the tourists to the sword in Nelspruit on Saturday.

Moreover, he is in charge of a team with exciting talent in key positions, with many more options on the bench. In darker days there might have been outrage when Western Province scrumhalf Louis Schreuder was called into the squad this week. After all, Schreuder is not even a regular first choice for his province and their greatest proponent would not suggest that WP are spoilt for choice at number 9 right now.

But there is no outrage because most people will understand that Schreuder is not going to do much more than pass the ball around the tackle bags in training.

The Test side welcomes the return of Ruan Pienaar as the starting scrumhalf and his understudy is another late call up, Piet van Zyl of the Cheetahs. Van Zyl's selection gives the Cheetahs five players in the squad of 23 announced on Wednesday, which is just reward for the fine season being enjoyed in Bloemfontein.

Meyer seems to have changed his mind at flyhalf, having originally intimated that Pat Lambie would start there this week.

But Morné Steyn did nothing wrong and lots right against Italy and the coach has clearly decided that confidence and momentumare more important than mixing and matching at this stage of the season.

Magical touches
He may well be right and Lambie may have to endure prolonged frustration on the bench, given the fact that the fullback shirt was claimed in fine fashion by Willie le Roux last week.

There was a collective sigh when Le Roux chose to kick the first ball that came his way against Italy, but subsequently the magical touches that have been evident all year in Super Rugby came to the fore.

It might even be argued that Le Roux was the most important player on the field inasmuch as he inspired Bryan Habana to seek the limelight. Habana's 48th international try was similar to the one he scored at the same ground in 2007 when the Bulls beat the Sharks in injury time to claim the Super 14 title.

Six years ago, the man with jet shoes was regarded as the most potent attacking force on the planet. But prolonged exposure to Calvinist game plans at both provincial and international level seemed to have dulled his appetite for the game. Maybe Le Roux's free spirit has reignited Habana's desire, in which case opposition sides had better watch out.

Selection is easy when players want to play but you need a bit of luck, too. Meyer's good fortune happened on the eve of the Test when Willem Alberts reported unfit and the coach was forced to include Arno Botha in the starting line-up.

It meant a quick amendment to the game plan and, instead of watching Alberts batter his way up field with the ball tucked under his arm, the backs enjoyed an unlikely surfeit of possession. Botha had an excellent game and would probably have kept his place this week even if Alberts had been fit.

The third member of the back row to take on Scotland is Marcel Coetzee, who probably should have been in the first 15 last week anyway. Coetzee replaces François Louw, who has been excused games to get married.

Expansive game plan
Time was when rugby players got married out of season but since that accounts for only about six weeks of the year these days, Louw can be forgiven for exchanging a week in Nelspruit for a trip down the aisle.

Coetzee's place on the bench goes to Siya Kolisi, the Stormers flank. Kolisi has been injured at inconve ient times over the past 12 months but he will benefit greatly from being part of a Springbok squad oozing confidence and comfortable with an unusually expansive game plan.

The stars appear to be in alignment as well – he turns 22 on match day.

Kolisi is one of the new generation of black players capable of changing the face of Springbok rugby. Like Trevor Nyakane, who made his debut against Italy, Kolisi was spotted early and pushed hard.

Kolisi is from Zwide, a township near Port Elizabeth, but completed his education at Grey High School. Nyakane is from Bushbuckridge and was given a bursary to Ben Vorster High School in Tzaneen.

Tzaneen is also the birthplace of Chiliboy Ralepelle, who came off the bench for the Boks last week, but has been replaced by Bismarck du Plessis this time around. Ralepelle is leaving the Bulls to join Toulouse at the end of the South African season, another example of how far we have come from the terrible days of "quota players".

Ralepelle is a seasoned international who has enjoyed huge success with the Bulls and has now decided to further his career in France. He happens to be black. Toulouse is not in the business of employing quota players.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories


press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday