National coaches are talking about how their planning for the 2019 World Cup is nearly done, and they’re saying that their squad is 90 percent of where they want it to be in two year’s time.
After this end-of-year tour, the Springboks will only have one more trip north before Japan 2019. There are around 25 Tests left for a coach to see the combinations he’s going to pick and see if they’re up to it in different circumstances – under pressure, home and away, and against Tier-1 countries.
I hear England are talking about rotation this tour, and the Wallabies left out Kane Douglas and took two new young locks. They’ve obviously got a different mindset to South Africa in terms of what they want to get out of the tour.
New Zealand can be more experimental because they’ve got more answers than questions; we’ve got more questions than answers. We can’t afford to take a B team because we’ve got to get some momentum, we need to get a few wins with this group.
It’s going to be interesting to see which way the selections go because the Boks played really well against the All Blacks at Newlands with Steven Kitshoff starting at loosehead prop and Francois Louw at No 8.
If you don’t give the first three Tests to the incumbent combinations, such as halfbacks Ross Cronje and Elton Jantjies, then you will miss three opportunities to grow that partnership. But if you don’t play the other guys, then you miss the chance to see what else you have and those players don’t really get an opportunity to fight for places in the starting lineup.
Life comes at you fast on these tours and plans sometimes have to change in a heartbeat. In 1997 I went on the Bok tour under Nick Mallett. Justin Swart started at fullback against Italy but, the following week, in the build-up to two Tests against France, he tore his hamstring during the captain’s practice.
We had to wait until we got back to the team hotel to tell Percy Montgomery that he was starting because he wasn’t even in the matchday squad that week. Monty came straight in, we beat France twice, and then suddenly all the planning started to go around his left boot at fullback. He went on to play 100 Test matches and won a World Cup.
There’s talk that Damian de Allende will get a chance to cement his place in the team on this tour, taking over from Jan Serfontein at No 12. Is he compatible with a 9 and 10 of Cronje and Jantjies? If he isn’t, then who would be the right 9 and 10, and the right 13 to partner him?
The proof of the pudding is in the eating – any risk you take or options you use will be seen in a positive light if you get a positive result. If you get a negative result, then there’ll be criticism.
In 2006, there was an outcry after I picked Bryan Habana at 13 against Ireland and we lost 32-15. The irony was that Bryan had played 13 his whole life; I had picked him out of position when I played him on the wing in 2005!
The bottom line for the Springbok coach is that the jewel in the crown is the World Cup and we’re playing New Zealand first up. If South Africa beat the All Blacks, they’re basically into a semi-final, so you want to know what your team is going to look like in their World Cup opener, and everything on this tour needs to be focused on preparing for that challenge and giving that team as many opportunities as possible to play together.
You also want to go through the various scenarios in your selections where you might have to deal with a curveball, like Nick had to do in 1997.