The team to play Argentina on Saturday in Pretoria includes five of those eight travellers – Bakkies Botha (Toulon), Bryan Habana (Toulon), Francois Louw (Bath), Ruan Pienaar (Ulster) and Morne Steyn (Stade Francais) – and this shows the high regard in which Meyer holds European rugby, and the French league in particular.
Apart from the thorny issue of overseas-based players, the other feature of the current Springbok team that causes the mutters in many South African supporters is the number of veteran players that are still involved.
Ten of the squad have more than 50 caps and Meyer has persisted with 2007 World Cup winners like Botha, Jean de Villiers, Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis, Habana, Pienaar, Gurthro Steenkamp and Smith, while Schalk Burger, Fourie du Preez, Jaque Fourie, Victor Matfield and JP Pietersen are still very much in Meyer’s plans.
The value of experience is a recurring theme amongst the Springbok leadership.
“It’s very exciting to have such good experience and young guys with exceptional talent putting pressure on them for their places. It’s a good balance for us and you see how guys like Handre Pollard and Jan Serfontein played unbelievably well when they started in the incoming Tests,” captain De Villiers said this week.
“We’re in the ideal position to bring youngsters in … look at Lood de Jager playing with Victor Matfield. He knows that he has that experience next to him and that’s why guys like Juan Smith also add value. They’ve been through it all, they can tell the youngsters to ‘do it like this’. It speeds up the process of making inexperienced players experienced,” De Villiers added.
“You can’t buy experience, like we saw when Bakkies came back late last year. Guys like him and Juan are inspirational, they never give up and they’re an example to all of us in how to keep going,” defence coach John McFarland said.
While France as a nation might be going through a bad patch in rugby, there is no doubting the strength of their domestic teams. Performances there clearly carry plenty of weight with Meyer, judging by the number of players, some of them controversial selections, that he has called up from France.
There has also been a concerted effort behind the scenes to improve relationships between the Springboks and the overseas clubs, after the ill-feeling of the Peter de Villiers era.
The channels of communication are considerably more open these days and Springbok manager Ian Schwartz ensures that all clubs with South African players are kept appraised of Meyer’s plans for them.
Toulon were the first to know about Smith’s potential return to the international stage and there seems to be no reason for the mutual love affair between South Africa and the double champions not to continue.
Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal is known to be a massive admirer of South African players and even the coaching skills of Meyer are highly regarded by the 54-year-old businessman. So much so that Boudjellal has approached Meyer a couple of times about coaching Toulon; clearly neither party will ever want to burn the cordial bridges that exist between them.