Rassie Erasmus hasn’t been scared to experiment with combinations in his first year in charge of the Boks. It’s his way of creating depth for next year’s Rugby World Cup by testing options at the highest level. Whether it’s worked, we will only know come rugby’s showpiece event.
The knockout rounds of the Currie Cup have finally produced some decent rugby and, with Rassie open to rewarding domestic form (see Ruhan Nel’s call-up during the Rugby Championship), the Newlands final is perhaps a last chance for some players to stick their hand up for a seat on the plane to Europe next month, especially since one of the tour matches falls outside World Rugby’s international window.
Here are four players that will be itching to make a late run at the Bok squad:
Akker van der Merwe
Rassie’s first-choice hooker is Malcolm Marx, and Bongi Mbonambi is number two. Judging by exhaustive efforts to get the retired Schalk Brits a last sojourn at the Stormers, you’ve got to think he’s in third place.
But until we’ve seen Brits play rugby again, I can’t see why he should go on a Bok tour ahead of Van der Merwe.
The Sharks hooker is a much more steady lineout exponent than both of the incumbents and while he hasn’t been completely out of Rassie’s thinking (making his Test debut earlier this year) Saturday’s final, playing against Mbonambi, is an ideal opportunity to remind the Bok coach why he’s got more to offer than the veteran, Brits.
When your third-choice lock is already in the starting line-up as your first-choice blindside flank, then you know you’ve got depth. But maybe Pieter-Steph du Toit’s form at blindside flank will result in him being seen as a specialist in that position, which would open up another position among the second-row reserves.
Under Rassie the roles of our locks haven’t been the classic Victor and Bakkies role of lineout specialist and enforcer, and that’s why JD Schickerling is knocking very hard on that Springbok door.
Almost 30 percent of his tackles have been dominant, he’s barely lost a lineout, and he averages more than five metres per carry. Schickerling fits in perfectly into the hybrid-lock role that Rassie likes. With Lood de Jager not having played rugby for some time, a dominant performance from Schickerling could well see him jump into Bok contention.
In 2013, Du Toit earned a Bok call-up after bossing some much more experienced men in a Newlands Currie Cup final, albeit for the Sharks. Maybe Schickerling can emulate him?
For some or other reason, Rassie doesn’t seem to like Dillyn Leyds, and it’s hard to understand why. Need a second-playmaker in the mould of Wille le Roux at fullback? Leyds has got one of the best passes in the country. Need another hot-stepper like Cheslin Kolbe, Leyds is your man.
Even though he only averages a kick every 29 minutes in this year’s Currie Cup (Le Roux averaged one every 22 minutes during the Rugby Champs), Leyds’ average gain of 45 metres per kick compares very favourably to Le Roux’s 24m.
Good under the high-ball as well, Leyds will make Rassie take note if he wins a shootout against Curwin Bosch.
Picked to start against Wales in Rassie’s first Test in charge, a loss of form during Super Rugby has meant that Bosch hasn’t been in the Bok frame since. He’s now behind Le Roux, Kolbe and even Damian Willemse in the fullback pecking order, but write him off at your own peril.
The kid gets miles out of his kicking boot and averages nine metres per carry. One of those players who can easily win a match on his own, a successful performance from Bosch in the final may see his big boot come in handy to unstick the Boks from the mud in Europe.
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