The Springboks will play five Tests before opening their 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign against New Zealand, and Rassie Erasmus is on record stating that his 31-man RWC squad is 80 percent settled.
The Bok coach will field his strongest available line-ups for the Rugby Championship clashes against Australia and New Zealand in July. It’s conceivable he’ll do the same when the Springboks take on Japan on 6 September in preparation for the looming All Blacks encounter at the International Stadium Yokohama.
That leaves two matches against Argentina in August as opportunities for exploring options to decide on the remaining 20 percent.
Even the best-laid World Cup plans can be sundered by injuries, loss of form or an unwarranted red card. So it’s vital Erasmus uses the time he has left to plug holes with more than just stop-gap measures. With that in mind, here’s a list of players yet to be utilised by Erasmus who could complete the puzzle making for a battle-hardened squad:
Malcolm Marx and Bongi Mbonambi are the top two. Erasmus is fond of Schalk Brits’ experience and gees. But Brits hasn’t had much game time and his 37-year-old body will need to keep on trucking. His recent scuffle with Akker van Der Merwe and their subsequent bans also couldn’t have done either player any favours in their quest to impress selectors.
It’s true that experience wins World Cups and the importance of sound technical rake play means veteran Bismarck du Plessis must be seen as a strong choice to join his brother-in-arms Tendai Mtawarira for a swansong.
Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen are the first-choice loose trio. Erasmus has also employed Francois Louw, Warren Whiteley and Sikhumbuzo Notshe. But, despite Whiteley’s leadership credentials and Notshe’s verve, only Flo boasts genuine and crucial utility value.
Under Erasmus at Test level, Flo has offered dogged grit but then he’s also looked a bit off the pace at times. The fit-again Marcell Coetzee and Jaco Kriel must be given their chance to secure a spot. Both are capable of explosive performances across the back row.
Faf de Klerk is in the pilot seat. Embrose Papier is growing as his deputy. But Louis Schreuder, Ross Cronje and Ivan van Zyl haven’t really shot the lights out.
Francois Hougaard has the experience and versatility. Yet the scintillating form of Cobus Reinach in the English Premiership is tough to ignore.
Jesse Kriel and Lukhanyo Am are firing on all cylinders. Damian de Allende is difficult to contain when in form. Lionel Mapoe is at his instinctive best when playing with Elton Jantjies, but he and Andre Esterhuizen have yet to do enough at Test level to convince.
Jan Serfontein has impressed when playing for the Boks. Savvy Erasmus would do well to link up the 35-capped Springbok inside centre with his former Bulls 10 and 13.
Patrick Lambie’s forced retirement may have scuppered some plans. Curwin Bosch and Damian Willemse have shown promise. But both are being employed mostly at 15 by their franchises and Erasmus has pointed out that no flyhalf under the age of 24 has won a World Cup.
Erasmus needs an experienced game manager and a calming influence to step in if anything were to happen to Handre Pollard or Jantjies, or indeed to Willie Le Roux at fullback, given the relative inexperience of the Springbok’s first choice wings.
Johan Goosen or Frans Steyn can provide stability across the backline. Steyn is a World Cup winner, has over 50 Bok caps and is the more imposing presence.
Erasmus also has to consider meeting the 50 percent transformation target. Will there be significant selections in this regard for the second Test against Argentina in Pretoria on 17 August?
It will be interesting to see how the Springbok brains-trust balances all these factors as the Rugby World Cup draws near.
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