The AOR team debates whether to drop Handre Pollard from the team to face France this week in one of several tweaks to gauge the quality of the Boks’ depth.
Tank Lanning – NO
Coach Rassie Erasmus might be losing sleep over a few selection posers, but those are becoming fewer and fewer as he goes about building squad depth in a mostly convincing fashion.
The thing keeping his chemist on speed dial, though, is around what he would do if Handre Pollard got injured. This not because he does not have options – Elton Jantjies is growing into his role off the bench, while Damien Willemse remains a diamond, albeit an unpolished and unknown one.
It’s the fact that all three have different strengths, and thus play very different games. And with Erasmus having picked the one who takes it up best from a flat starting position, the Bok game plan, at least for the first 40 minutes, revolves around that particular skill.
It certainly worked for Nick Mallet when he had Henry Honiball in a similar role.
It’s the reason I think the coach should be exposing Rob du Preez to the Bok system, as it would give him more of a like-for-like replacement should Pollard go down. A story for another day though.
So choice made, and with Pollard available, pick him every time. He is the Bok commander in chief.
The surprise availability of Faf de Klerk delivers a bit of a catch 22 situation, but if in Rassie’s shoes, and given how little game time the back up scrummies have had, I would stick to giving Van Zyl, Papier and Schreuder starts. What a bonus to have Faf coming off the bench should it all go Pete Tong!
Up front Schalk Brits and Vincent Koch must get game time. I’d have them off the bench with Malcolm Marx Marx and Wilco Louw starting. Trevor Nyakane would then replace Thomas du Toit on the bench.
Zelím Nel – YES
The Boks know exactly what they’ve got at flyhalf in Pollard, and it wouldn’t take much waterboarding for Rassie Erasmus to admit that Elton Jantjies is, at best, an emergency option.
Damian Willemse will be the 10 that takes South Africa to France in 2023 – even Stevie Wonder will tell you that’s signed, sealed and delivered.
Coincidentally, the Boks are snacking on crepes in Paris this week, and a tilt against Les Bleus offers Erasmus a waning opportunity to develop Willemse into Pollard’s wingman for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Not since Frans Steyn has South Africa produced a gamebreaker of Willemse’s elite potential. Prodigiously talented but raw, this kid needs to play, and play in a hurry if the Boks want to have him fully installed for RWC 9.0. There will be issues that require troubleshooting, but now (not September next year) is the time for debugging.
Some might say Pollard should start so that Erasmus can continue the search for a capable backup scrumhalf, but the flyhalf depth chart is much closer to being solved and better to successfully tick at least one box on this tour.
Recall Faf de Klerk to partner Willemse with Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel making the calls from the outside in. Also bring back Willie le Roux to fullback, and pencil him in as the reserve flyhalf if Willemse is unable to play to the final whistle, in which case Gio Aplon (highly respected in France) comes on at 15.
Give Pieter-Steph du Toit a deserved rest, wrap Eben Etzebeth in cotton wool and, in the quest for answers, trial Lood de Jager and RG Snyman in the second row with Franco Mostert at 7, Siya Kolisi at 8 and Duane Vermeulen at 6, and start Trevor Nyakane at loosehead next to Bongi Mbonambi and Vincent Koch.
You’ve read what they think, now it’s time to let us know whose side you’re on!