You know that a team environment is very healthy when good starting players are looking over their shoulders in the build-up to the announcement of the matchday 23.
For the first time in what feels like an eternity, Springbok fans know for sure that their team is blessed with depth. First, credit must go to Rassie Erasmus for identifying, from the get-go, that the Boks could only dream of returning back to the top if selectors had access to the best players on offer. Unfortunately, a majority of these players are abroad.
Secondly, thank the powers that be at SARU for scrapping the restrictions on choosing local players ahead of their overseas counterparts. The situation had become so dire last year that I highlighted the general consensus that a Bok Foreign XV would comfortably put a Bok Homegrown XV to the sword in a three-match series.
Now, you take a look at the team starting against New Zealand on Saturday morning (as opposed to the side that ran on against Australia) and you realise that some of them are actually playing for their spots.
Damian de Allende has been the comfortable incumbent as the starting inside centre while Andre Esterhuizen continued blowing his opportunities to dislodge him. But Frans Steyn is suddenly a very real threat to either of them after watching his performance at 12 against the Wallabies which was a very clear throwback to his outstanding 2007 Rugby World Cup campaign.
Would we have been in this position if he was still in the wilderness sanctioned by SARU?
Who’d have thought that previously untouchable Faf de Klerk would be keeping at bay another England-based compatriot in Premiership Player of the Year nominee Cobus Reinach, with Herschel Jantjies materialising out of nowhere to also storm into contention?
Then there’s the outside centre berth which is a straight shoot-out between Jesse Kriel and Lukhanyo Am, with the latter seemingly in a narrow lead by virtue of him starting against the All Blacks in what will probably be a Rugby Championship title decider.
Furthermore, Erasmus is losing weight while sweating over which front-row forwards will form part of the starting team, the bench, the dirt-trackers as well as those who might miss the plane to Japan altogether!
For instance, a well-known maven on social media pointed out just how crucial Bongi Mbonambi’s cameos for the Springboks actually are, particularly when it comes to lineout throwing, an area in which the Boks generally struggle.
Malcolm Marx should start feeling the heat sooner rather than later, especially since Schalk Brits proved he isn’t a bad option, either! Lineouts are the critical set play in defence and attack, so we have to sort them out ASAP.
To the right, Frans Malherbe was not exactly a popular tighthead selection to start, or to even be part of the 23-man selection, so if he delivers like he usually seems to do in big games, then he will only reinforce my opinion that South Africa might just boast the best prop stocks in the southern hemisphere.
I tentatively asked on Twitter if captain Siya Kolisi would return to the openside position untouched when he recovers from injury. The responses were an overwhelming ‘YES’. But will he be missed if he doesn’t?
Marcel Coetzee and Francois Louw mean business when it comes to the No 6 jumper. As such, Kwagga Smith had better snaffle this opportunity now because there is no room for errors at this point.
This Springbok team has come quite far. At the beginning of 2018, the fear we all had was that there wasn’t sufficient depth to make the Green-and-Gold competitive (or relevant) again. Now the question is whether they are consistent enough to secure a Rugby Championship title as well as World Cup glory in the space of 10 matches.
It’s much more fun asking the latter question .
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