DESPITE enjoying a season full of burgeoning runs, well-timed tackles and crucial tries, Heyneke Meyer says his former young star Pierre Spies will have to join the back of the queue to earn a Rugby World Cup place.
Pundits have hailed this as the Bulls eighthman’s finest season in five years, as many of his displays have led to the Bulls topping the South African Super Rugby conference.
Now that his biceps injuries are a thing of the past, Spies is carrying the ball a lot straighter to the line and when he is in the clear nothing can stop him going over the tryline.
He has recovered in the nick of time to be part of the 44-man Bok training camp that gathered in Sunninghill, Johannesburg on Monday, but to force his way into the final 31 that will go to the UK will be a much tougher task.
Incumbent No 8 Duane Vermeulen is the man-mountain standing in his way.
"Spies has always been a great player and people were harsh on him," Meyer said on Monday. "He’s been injured for two years — it is tough to come back from one injury and then get another. The one thing I’m worried about most in the world is picking the loose-forwards because a lot of the media, say this or that guy should go to the World Cup.
"People do not realise that, of your 31 players, nine must come from the front row. If you look at other positions, you go with four locks and five loose-forwards or three locks and six loose-forwards but most teams will go for the former.
"So it is going to be very difficult to pick five loose-forwards out of a possible 12 world-class ones. The question is, who do you leave out?
"But Pierre is back to his best. I still think he can play better because I’ve known him since he was a youngster and he’s an awesome player.
"He is putting pressure on the other guys but I can mention five other loose-forwards who are also playing great rugby at the moment. There’s a lot of competition and that’s the way it should be."
Meyer oversaw a broad Springbok training squad at their St Peter’s College base on Monday. Of the 44, only 20 took full part in the training drills while Bok captain Jean de Villiers was given time to work with the rehab specialists as he recovers from a knee injury.
There were a number of fresh faces at the camp — the likes of Faf de Klerk, Jesse Kriel and Vincent Koch — but Meyer said that people should not expect dramatic changes to the pool he has worked with for the last three years.