Springbok rugby coach Heyneke Meyer announced a World Cup squad heavy with experience and his trusted lieutenants, admitting that he was “hoping” many of the walking wounded would be fit for their opening game against Japan in Brighton on September 19.
Meyer has chosen nine members of the victorious 2007 World Cup squad in Schalk Burger, 2015 captain Jean de Villiers, Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis, Fourie du Preez, Bryan Habana, Victor Matfield, Ruan Pienaar and JP Pietersen, while players such as Willem Alberts, Zane Kirchner, Tendai Mtawariria and Morne Steyn have been stalwarts of his four-year term.
But a massive injury cloud hangs over the Springboks with De Villiers, key eighthman Duane Vermeulen, Jannie du Plessis, Du Preez, Willie le Roux, Francois Louw and Coenie Oosthuizen all having their build-up to the World Cup disrupted by injuries.
“The medical advice is that they are 100% confident that all 31 players will be fit for the first game and I’m hoping that will be the case. It is a worry to be honest, but certain players are warriors and they’re like charcoal that becomes diamonds under pressure.
“I know what a guy like Fourie du Preez can do, we’ve been training against Namibia, we’ve been having semi-opposed contact and I can see how ready they are in training. We’ll have four pool games at the World Cup to blend guys in and players like Flo and Duane are in the best form I’ve ever seen them in. Guys like that just need 30 minutes on the field and they’re back in the game,” Meyer said at the squad announcement at the team’s Umhlanga Rocks hotel on Friday night.
Meyer admitted that the last week had been a highly emotional one with players like flank Marcel Coetzee, who is 50/50 to be fit in time for the first game, and scrumhalf Cobus Reinach the unluckiest players to miss out on the squad.
“I started coaching because I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives, to make dreams come true. But these have been some of my most emotional days, it has felt like life and death. All the guys have put their bodies on the line and every single guy is good enough to play in a World Cup final.
“But I saw every player in a one-on-one and many of them burst into tears when I told them they had been selected and the same for those guys who I had to tell that they had not been selected,” Meyer said.
Scrumhalf Rudi Paige is the only uncapped member of the squad, although he was selected for the 2014 end-of-year tour before getting injured.
The average age of the squad is just over 26.