The AOR team debates the merits of Rassie Erasmus’ plan to send over a group of first-choice players to dig in early for next week’s showdown against the All Blacks in Wellington.
Tank Lanning – CLEVER!
“Can you play Australia here, get on a plane, arrive on Monday or Tuesday and think you have a realistic chance of beating New Zealand in New Zealand?” asks Erasmus.
Well, of course you can. Once in every 44 attempts, that is. Just ask every team tasked with taking on the Crusaders in a Super Rugby playoff match on their own patch!
So in a year in which only 22 die-hard rugby fans will remember who wins the abbreviated Rugby Champs, and in a year that sees the Bok Rugby World Cup path decided by their opening game against the All Blacks in Tokyo, why the hell not try something a bit different?
And as pondered in previous debates on the makeup of Erasmus’ RWC squad, the Bok mentor does have a few big calls to make. Who is his swing prop? Who will start at tighthead? How do they play sans Siya Kolisi, and as such who replaces him? What happens if Pollard or Vermeulen get injured? What is his best centre combination?
So with only four Bok Tests left before that RWC opener against the All Blacks, now is the time to experiment – and give the fringe players a chance to stake their claim. Splitting his squad allows Erasmus to do exactly that.
But it’s disrespectful to play a ‘B’ team, say a few troops. What is a ‘B’ team, though? Given the banter around the squad selected, quite clearly one man’s ‘A’ team is another person’s ‘C’ team. “What is the difference between Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert? Or Mostert and Lood de Jager?” asks the Bok coach. Fair enough.
And while denying it vociferously, does it really matter if he fields a so called ‘B’ team against the Aussies at Ellis Park this weekend?
Zelím Nel – CRAZY!
It’s perilous stuff second-guessing Erasmus, a technical guru with a track record of innovation. It’s also difficult to compute the logic in the decision to go full-throttle against the All Blacks next week when there seems to be far more to lose than to gain.
When the Boks won in Wellington last year, a rare ray of hope burst through the dark thunderclouds that have enveloped SA Rugby in recent times. That light vindicated supporters who’d weathered a run of six straight defeats against New Zealand since 2014. The optimism was backed up in the return leg of the Rugby Championship when the Boks came close to doing the double at Loftus Versfeld.
It’s fair to say the All Blacks seem far less invincible in 2019 than they did at the corresponding point of last season. This is a great thing given the proximity of the Rugby World Cup, so why jeopardise the feel-good in pursuit of an unlikely win?
Let’s start with the best-case scenario: the Boks defy a 1-6 record (and an average loss-margin of 17 points) at the Westpac Stadium and beat the All Blacks. Brilliant! But now South Africa arrive in Japan with heightened expectations that they’re going to do great things, relieving some of the pressure on New Zealand to shoulder the full weight of the favourites tag in their RWC opener.
A win in Wellington would also mean that for SA to make a winning start to the World Cup, they’d need to beat the Kiwis for the third time in four matches (something that hasn’t been done in a decade).
The worst-case scenario is the top Boks give it their best shot at the Cake Tin next week and have a bad day at the office. That would make last year’s victory look like an anomaly and swing the momentum in this rivalry right back in the All Blacks’ favour. And with the Kiwis having beaten the team and the plan that Erasmus is likely to deploy at the RWC, the Boks would have to be made of hyperalloy not to start mulling selections and tactics.
Instead, why not pick the No 1s to smash the depleted Wallabies at Ellis Park on Saturday, and then muddy the value of the Wellington Test by sending across a highly-experimental team with instructions to run everything at the Kiwis, while paying no heed to the scoreboard?
What is Steve Hansen going to take out of a clash against a trigger-happy Bok side with Schalk Brits starting at hooker, Kwagga Smith and Marcell Coetzee packing down at 6 and 8, a halfback combination of Cobus Reinach and Frans Steyn, and Cheslin Kolbe clicking his heels at fullback?
Anything less than a comprehensive victory for the Kiwis would sow seeds of doubt, and the surprise selections would make Hansen wonder what to expect from South Africa in Tokyo.
OK, you’ve read what they think, now let us know which way you’re leaning, or join the #BigDebate on Twitter!