CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa will rely on players who have seen it all before as they bid to become the most successful nation in rugby World Cup history at this year’s tournament.
Coach Heyneke Meyer has included nine players from the Springboks’ winning squad of 2007 as he trumpets the need for calm heads in the pressure moments that are sure to come, particularly in the closing stages of the tournament, when the margin between success and failure can be millimetres.
The Boks have already been on the wrong end of agonising losses to Australia and New Zealand this season, with Meyer laying part of the blame on a lack of on-field leadership.
He does not want a repeat in England and is taking something of a gamble on what he views as the right men for the job.
Captain Jean de Villiers must still recover from a fractured jaw, scrumhalf Fourie du Preez has not played international rugby at all this year and 38-year-old lock Victor Matfield has also had his share of time on the sidelines.
That has been the major theme for the side in the build-up to the World Cup. The likes of number eight Duane Vermeulen, loose forwards Willem Alberts and Francois Louw, lock Pieter-Steph du Toit, flyhalf Pat Lambie and wing JP Pietersen have all spent considerable time out in 2015.
“I know that there have been a lot of injuries, but the players have really recovered well,” Meyer told reporters. “I have to be honest and say these players are true warriors; from charcoal you get diamonds. They have been through a great deal and they are mentally tough.”
At full strength the two-time champions will be a formidable force with a heavy pack to provide muscle and plenty of options at the lineout.
Du Preez is an expert at dictating the pace of a game, while they have three strong options at flyhalf, offering the elusive running of Handre Pollard, the consistency and tactical kicking of Lambie and Morne Steyn’s calmness under pressure.
They have exciting centres, too, in Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel, while Bryan Habana and Pietersen are both World Cup-winning wings and Willie le Roux brings an X-factor at fullback.
Criticised in some quarters at home for a lack of transformation in the national team, Meyer has included nine black players in his squad, the most of any South African side going to a World Cup.
Editing by David Goodman