For the Springbok players in action, the series against England will be a shot at redemption, a chance to stake a claim for a place in the starting lineup, or the long-awaited opportunity to taste Test rugby.
Is Bongi starting quality?
In South African rugby, a bench player isn’t seen as an integral part of the plan – he’s more of a stop-gap option when the first-choice player is tired or injured.
Bongi Mbonambi is one of the players who has this label, having played 13 of 14 Tests from the bench.
He’s had the misfortune of, during his first year, playing second fiddle to the Bok captain, and then he found himself behind Malcolm Marx, probably the only Bok contending for World XV honours in 2017.
Now is Mbonambi’s time to shine, albeit against an experienced campaigner in Jamie George. It’s quite ironic that George has also been playing second fiddle to England captain Dylan Hartley.
George did start for the British and Irish Lions last year, so he too will want to finally prove to Eddie Jones that the jersey with the two on the back should belong to him.
It’s sink or swim for Mbonambi in this series. If he fails, Akker van der Merwe is eagerly waiting for his chance, and the calls for the old guard of Bismarck du Plessis and Adriaan Strauss to be recalled will abound.
If Mbonambi can get his lineouts firing, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t look at home in the run-on team.
Can Duane still do it?
From 2012 to 2015, Duane Vermeulen was probably the best eighthman on the planet. It’s quite a statement if you consider that this was basically the peak period for Kieran Read, Jamie Heaslip and Sergio Parisse.
Vermeulen’s game was the perfect blend of these elite No 8s, and he even dominated Read during the iconic Springboks-All Blacks tussle at Ellis Park during the Heyneke Meyer era.
Fast forward three years and Vermeulen is heading home from France. But the player who seemed like a shoo-in to captain the Boks under Allister Coetzee now seems fortunate to have made the team in the absence of the injured Warren Whiteley.
Over the past two Test seasons, Vermeulen has been a shadow of the player he once was – unfit and off the pace. Not one performance from him during this period has made Bok fans pine for his return to SA.
Fortunately, Vermeulen looks like he’s shed some pounds, and is again playing under the man who gave him his big break, drafting him from the Pumas to the Cheetahs.
Erasmus believes in him, and Vermeulen was one of the first signings when Erasmus took over at the Stormers.
With all the pieces in place, it’s time for Vermeulen to prove he’s still got it.
Can Am hold his own at 13?
Ever since Jacque Fourie’s retirement we’ve been searching for a starting outside centre. The only player that’s been given an extended shot is Jesse Kriel. For all his attacking prowess, Kriel still hasn’t nailed down the dark art of defence that made Mossie one of the best 13’s in the world.
Enter Lukhanyo Am. The man thrives on converting defence into attack. He’s only missed 12 out of 117 attempted tackles in Super Rugby, and that in a position which Fourie once claimed that it feels like four guys are running at you at once.
He also loves contesting a ruck, which is hopefully something we can exploit with the pace of Sbu Nkosi and Aphiwe Dyanti come turnover time.
And for those scared we’ll lose something on attack, just look at Am’s deft touches in pressure situations – he knows how to assist.
Which Willie will pitch up?
Willie le Roux has played more than 40 Tests for his country. He’s also been nominated as World Rugby’s Player of the Year.
The problem with Le Roux is that we’ve seen as much mediocre play from him as we have flashes of brilliance. The fear is still there that we’re going to have to wait to see which Le Roux pitches up on any given Saturday.
His career path is similar to Percy Montgomery who who went overseas and came back as one of the most steadfast and consistent Boks of all time under Jake White. As much as Le Roux has dominated the Aviva Premiership’s highlight packages, what rugby up north would’ve taught him more than anything else is patience.
Also, Le Roux isn’t the youngster playing with JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana anymore. In this Bok squad, he is the guy that Nkosi and Dyanti will look to for help.
Here’s hoping we see a consistent Le Roux over the next few Tests, correctly choosing when to influence the game with some of the touches only a player of his calibre is capable of.
Follow Dawie on Twitter: @dawiboon
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