Rassie gambling on Wellington double?

Dawie Boonzaaier

It’s hard to fault Rassie Erasmus on any of the 40 names included in his first Springbok squad of 2019. It’s not too bloated, gives chances to overseas veterans, and the only genuine prospects kept out of contention by injuries are the likes of Damian Willemse and Warren Whiteley, and obviously captain Siya Kolisi.

But the Rugby Championship is where the hard part starts, with coach Rassie Erasmus facing the difficult exercise of beginning to trim that squad down to the required 31 for the 2019 World Cup in September, with the ultimate goal of bringing Bill back to South Africa.

Square pegs will have to fit into round holes, compromises will need to be made between specialists and versatile players, and of course, experience will have to balance out.

Erasmus is probably settled on a starting XV and eight reserves, but that leaves eight spots to fight for. Excluding the Boks’ first Test against Wales last year, Erasmus has only used 42 players, of which only 31 remain (excluding injured players). This means there are at least nine players in the current squad that haven’t spent sufficient time in the Bok camp to be up to speed with the systems and structures, and they therefore need to be tested in the upcoming Rugby Championship.

The list includes Dillyn Leyds, Frans Steyn, Herschel Jantjies, Cobus Reinach, Marcell Coetzee, Rynhardt Elstadt, Kwagga Smith, Lizo Gqoboka and Trevor Nyakane.

The Boks can’t play Jantjies and Reinach in the same team, and it wouldn’t make much sense to pick Coetzee, Smith and Elstadt as a loose-trio. Consequently, if Erasmus wants to evaluate each player to the fullest, he’s going to have to rotate during the three-Test competition.

According to reports, Eben Etzebeth and Duanne Vermeulen will both serve as captains in Kolisi’s absence during the Rugby Championship, and this shows that rotation is exactly what Rassie is planning.

Along with the seven newbies, other players like Marco van Staden (2 caps under Erasmus), Lood de Jager (2), Marvin Orie (2), Vincent Koch (4), Makazole Mapimpi (3), Schalk Brits (1) and Warrick Gelant (3) will also feel they haven’t had an extended opportunity to prove their worth, though Brits is probably safe as one of only three hookers in the squad.

Gelant and Leyds will have to deputise at fullback for a woefully out-of-form Willie le Roux, De Jager and Orie need to usurp superior players, while Elstadt is now also a versatile option, and Mapimpi probably needs to beat out Sharks’ teammate Sbu Nkosi.

Damian de Allende and Andre Esterhuizen have hardly set the world alight at 12, and this puts the maverick Frans Steyn right back into the equation, with Gqoboka and Nyakane in a shootout against Thomas du Toit for that spot as the swing prop.

With this year’s Rugby Championship shortened to a single-round format, one must wonder how much the psychological edge of beating New Zealand again before the World Cup will factor into Rassie’s thinking.

Winning is a habit, and sending first-choice Boks across the Indian Ocean one week early suggests the Boks are going all out for the win at the Cake Tin on 27 July – a risky move considering the implications of a loss. If the Kiwis trounce the Boks it may undo the confidence gained from last year’s victory in Wellington, the first against the All Blacks in seven years.

Luckily for the Boks, New Zealand also has some positions (like fullback, centre and blindside flank) that still need to be settled. But it’s unlikely Steve Hansen will send out an experimental team to host South Africa at the end of the month, given that the rematch will take place at the Yokohama Stadium with the World Cup at stake.

Any plans to experiment will be reserved for clashes with the Wallabies and Pumas, which doesn’t leave much room for error. And if the Boks lose against Australia at Ellis Park next week and then the Kiwis away, the ensuing trip to Argentina will suddenly become too important to risk experimenting with selections.

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Follow Dawie on Twitter: @dawiboon

- Dawie Boonzaaier

Let's chat

  • Barry

    Respects Dawie you alienate 50% of your readership in your first sentence. There has been endless debate on the continued exclusion and blind spots that he has in certain avenues of selection.

    A good number of the current squad are dead lucky to be there and there are a number that should feel let down, by their on going exclusion!

    I accept that it is what it is, but let’s not pretend that we all agree with what we have been presented!

    • Chris

      Every team has players on the fringes sitting outside the fence. I bet you there are NZ fans making the same argument about their team selection right now.
      Its a circular argument.
      Lets swap Brits for Akker for instance. Now you’ll have people arguing into perpetuity that Schalk should be in the team.

      • Barry

        That’s the point Chris, have a read of the NZ rugby blogs, you’ll find unity and understanding of the selections made. They took an hour and a half to present and explain who and why and the issue is that it is pure and simply performance based, so there’s no arguments!

        The only issue was over Reece because he had a marital dispute last year, but nothing about his performance on field.

        They are blooding their form players now with a view to WC and beyond, we are shutting the door on a big chunk of ours and sending them to Europe!

        Regardless, I wish them well, but boy we don’t do it the easy way!

    • John Comyn

      To be absolutely honest, if you had your way, we would have 30 Sharks plkayers with the balance being made up of the rest.

      • Barry

        Try and stick to content John! It’s about our National team in a World Cup year, so selection is particularly important!

        You’ve been very vocal about a Malherbe, as have I, he’s not a Shark. Also Sadie from the Lions/Stormers, not a Shark either. Then there’s Papier’s ousting after all the time invested, not a Shark either. We’ve spoken about Jantjies seniors poor year, yet National selection – Also not a Shark, by the bye. It goes on…

        On the question of the Sharks, yes probably two or three that are really unlucky, but they were unlucky last time and the time before that.

        • Dean Bright

          Are you saying Papier should be in the squad? He was poor this season, couldn’t even command a starting spot ahead of Warner. How can he then be a Springbok. Don’t cheapen the jersey like that. Elton was always going to be part of the squad, as there are no other form flyhalves to pick from. Bosch was probably a bit unlucky, but he’s not going to win you a World Cup final, still too inexperienced. Sadie will come into contention after the WC. I don’t see the point of bringing in debutants now. There’s not enough time to blood youngsters. It’s actually a very powerful looking squad and there will be huge competition for places. The only unlucky one is probably Akker but he will be there if one of the hookers get injured.

          • Dean Bright

            Dan du Preez is on the injured list. I never said I support Jantjies inclusion, your 3rd scrummie is barely going to play any games in the WC. Probably only off the bench against Namibia and Canada if any. Rudy Paige played zero in the last WC so what you whining about. You rave about Bosch but then he gets shown up against Griquas LOL. You’re only as good as your last game.

          • Barry

            Dean, you say “there’s not enough time to blood youngsters” in your view on the one hand, yet you support the inclusion of Herschel Jantjies on the other – a chap who is in his first full year of Super Rugby and has no Test experience!! This would seem a little contradictory, don’t you think, or is it ok in this instance because he comes from Province?

            You need to look at the facts Dean, not listen to the Cape spin doctors. Warner played the least time for the Bulls, not the most as you suggest – Papier 514 mins, Van Zyl 504 mins and Warner 342 mins!

            Balancing out the minutes played, you’ll find that statistically Papier performed a little better than Jantjies, not the other way around as you suggest. I am not a huge fan of either, but based on performance stats, the fact that Papier already has 8 tests to his name and the huge amount of time invested in his development, it is scandalous that he is not in the squad!

            Even the hardened Lions supporters are agreeing that Jantjies senior is out of sorts and does not deserve a National call up. He had the worst missed tackle stats last year in the entire competition, this year he’s second last – absolutely no improvement! To add to this, he has the third most handling errors, has had disciplinary issues and has not been able to hold down his position regularly at the Lions! We all have bad patches, but how can we reward this sort of performance – you have spoken about cheapening the jersey!

            Then there’s your Bosch comment – Did you not get to watch the Crusaders Vs Sharks game? He single handedly took on the best team in the competition arriving at a draw, in their back yard and scored ever single point that day. Twenty-one points against the Crusaders at home and you say he’s not up to it?

            Whynger has very adequately covered the exclusion of Sadie below, so I won’t protract matters!

            Akker is certainly unlucky, but there are many more. Consider for a moment Dean, that we had the best number 8 in the entire competition in our ranks, yes entire competition and he doesn’t make the cut!! If that happened in New Zealand there’d be a National Enquiry into it, but in SA it goes by without a mention! Dan Du Preez made the most tries, most points, most runs, most meters, most tackle breaks, and had the best tackle efficiency. Heck, what more must a guy do to get recognition? By the bye, our incumbent No 8 was not in the top 10.

            When New Zealand announced their squad, they went to great lengths to highlight the performance of those that had been selected. The reason is that they hold performance and “current” form at the core of their culture and that is why they are successful! In South Africa performance seems not to be a necessary component at all, players are selected regardless of poor form!

            The point is Dean, it is not how “great the squad looks”, but rather how much greater it could have been!

  • byron

    I dont actually mind a loose trio of 6)Kwagga 7) Elstad 8) Coetzee so why cant they play together?

  • John Comyn

    Turns out Rassie is splitting the squad for the OZ and AB test. Reason being is it is not realistic to think you play Australia on Saturday then arrive in NZ on Monday or Tuesday and expect to beat the AB’s. So 15 players are leaving early for NZ. Can’t fault that! Most us knew this. What is interesting is he says there are only 4 or 5 players who are out and out first choices and they will be in the group that leave early. Who do you think they are guys? My 5 would be Pollard, Faf, Marx, PSDT and Vermeulen.

    • Vossie

      Spot on, the question is who will be the rest of the guys travelling across? Who will start against Aus?
      Problem is who will be captain if you send the likes of PSTD, Etzebeth,Marx,Kitshoff & Vermeulen over to NZ early?
      15. Gelant/Leyds
      14. Kolbe
      13. Kriel
      12. Esterhuizen
      11. Mapimpi
      10. Jantjies
      9. Reinach/Jantjies
      8. Kwagga
      7. Elstadt
      6. Van Staden
      5. Mostert.
      4. De Jager.
      3. Nyakane/Malherbe
      2. Brits/Bombi
      1. Liz Gqboka/ Du Toit

    • boyo

      I think those exact 5 you are correct.

  • boyo

    Agreed Barry there are a lot of passengers

  • Chris Mouton

    “The Boks can’t play Jantjies and Reinach in the same team, and it wouldn’t make much sense to pick Coetzee, Smith and Elstadt as a loose-trio.” Pray tell why that is?

    The 1st choice 15 players are going to NZ beforehand, which I think is a great move. This means that Pollard and Faf will go to NZ beforehand, which leaves, you guessed it, Jantjies and Reinach in the same team. Not rocket science. As for the flankers going to NZ, they would most likely be Louw, du Toit and Vermeulen, which leaves Coetzee, Smith, Van Staden and Elstadt.

    The foreign players Rassie chose are all on form, except for Steyn and maybe Louw. I think Reinach, Elstadt and Coetzee will be able to add a lot to the Springboks. Your statement above would be more sensible if the Boks were aiming to win the RC, but Rassie most likely sees this test against Australia as a chance to see what foreign players can do and for players coming from injury to get some game time.

    In the end it’s about being ready for the World Cup. Keep your eyes on the prize.

    • Whynger

      You have the wrong Jantjies. He means Herscel, the scrumhalf.

      • Tobokani

        Therez only 3 scrumhalves in the squad so if faf goes to new zealand early who else is gonna be scrumhalf against Australia?? Obviously reinach and Jantjies with Reinach probably starting and Jantjies on the bench. This article idakiwe. There is no point to it.

  • John Comyn

    Barry you need to place a bit of faith in Rassie and his management team. Rassie will have done his homework thoroughly and yes he would have looked at all the stats in detail. He’s a stats man. He is also highly experienced both as a test player and international coach. If you thought he, or any other coach, was going to turn the Boks into world beaters in his 1st season you are deluded.

    • Barry

      Ah faith, that John is something to be reserved for Sunday mornings. A blind and unwavering commitment in the total absence of any supporting fact.

      As a pragmatist, I’d rather form a personal view based on the prevailing facts and data at hand. There’s just too much that does not stack up!

      Erasmus is unquestionably an astute rugby brain, but you ask that we trust his management team? Well quite simply no. Half are capable, the other half are hangers-on from a previous era or political appointees.

      He has a very difficult balancing act to negotiate. Politics, equity investors, Provincial pressure, weak support staff and so the list goes on. Surely the least we can do is offer him a reliable sounding board?

      I wish them all every success – I hope we wack the pants off them – but let’s not overlook our moral obligation to question!

  • Whynger

    Faith is in short supply in this country. Everything has a political tinge. How do you have faith in the saviour of the Springboks, if you do not even know what rules he has to live by? It is like the current faith in our great national leader. What are the rules he has to adhere to? If we don’t know, how do we trust.

    Both Thomas du Toit and Nyakane are poor excuses for props. They may swing but they definitely don’t prop. Big lumps of lard both. Neither Sadie, nor Louw are even in the picture. But then again, if your scrum coach was a swinger who could not prop either, what do you expect? Gquboka now: he props well, but does not swing at all. A man of great virtue, fortitude and endeavor. On super form, he is the man. The writer puts Koch and De Jager among the fringe players. Obviously does not follow rugby much, does he.

    On form and ability the best front five is: Gquboka, Marx, Koch, De Jager and P-S du Toit. Yes he is a lock. A very good lock. There are more than enough options available at No 7 to choose from. OK, I picked deJager purely on ability, because when he hits form, there is just so much ability on display. Du Toit is (in international terms) a good No 7, but he makes an exceptional No 5 lock. I like RG Snyman as well, but … Why but? He is good enough and deserves game time.

    Other must have props for the Championship are Sadie and Kitshoff. Yes I know Sadie is not in the group, but why does Rassie have a mind if he can’t change it. Why the hell do you actually need a swinger in this age of aeroplanes. A replacement is but a phone call away. Look at your team and pick the strongest most hardegat prop. He who will stand against all odds. I guarantee you, he can swing, even if he never has. In fact that reminds me of a certain Ruan Dreyer. This guy played a game for the Lions at loose head from the bench. He was phenomenal. Suddenly, his lack of real bulk was no factor. Eureka, we have found a real man who actually can swing and prop successfully.Will somebody just fire Rassie’s scrum coach please. I can never remember his name. O yes. Proudfoot. I wonder if he remember whether he played loose head or tight head for Scotland. Or both. Four caps in five years. Mmmhgh. We are so screwed.

  • Whynger

    I just woke up from a dream. I think. In my dream, Griquas beat the Sharks at Kings park. By quite a handsome margin, no less. But there were no players of note in the Griquas team. In fact, I think I had only heard a few of their names many years ago. And the Sharks team contained a number of highly regarded players (in Durban at least). I think I will sleep all weekend. Maybe I will dream that Federer played in the Wimbledon Final. Maybe Hamilton will not be on poll again either. Maybe I will dream that the Cricket World Cup disaster had nothing to do with AB and that all the journalists who tried to make it his fault, apologised. Then again, in reality not all your dreams come true. But some do. Go Griquas!!

    • Herman

      Good one old chap. Cheers.

    • Barry

      That sounds more like a nightmare than a dream whynger, perhaps medicate with Jameson’s!

  • Tobokani

    This article is a really poor piece of journalism all round,. ‘A woefully out of form Willie le roux’, the man has been playing non stop rugby since about September 2017. In 2018 after his club season, he had to help the Boks beat England in June, played al the Rugby championship games, then the end of year tour and then finished of his club season. With no injury break in between. Do the math, that’s 20 months of continuous rugby. I’m not saying he’s in form, but some context would be helpful before you make it look like Rassie has made a massive blunder picking a guy. He has had rest now do he should be good.

  • Dean Bright

    Is Darren Scott perhaps Oom rugby?

    • Barry

      My guess Dan Retief!

  • Herman

    John, Ackerman and should have been since 2016. Add to that a fit Whiteley and you could have built your team around them and not invited so many overseas golden oldies to make guest appearances for the Boks. Preference would also have been for the more skilled, mentally strong players. But what’s new in good old sunny SA. Despite being klapped every year the same old beat goes on and on and on. Cheers.

  • Herman

    For me the problem is most of those ‘certainties’ and the wannabees except for 5 or so standouts are all much of a muchness. Pretty ordinary with some maybe a bit more ‘experienced’ not that experience counts for much these days. Our generally poor results in SR where most of the contenders strutted their stuff only confirms that.

    When our supposedly strongest team of the SA Franchises finishes 17 points behind the eventual overall log winners (who themselves only won 11 out of 16 games ) and bows out in a QF, to then say our SR season has been pretty woeful is probably an understatement. Only the Aussies were more woeful but that’s not saying much.

    Now you add to that the fact that the Airlines have been working non stop to bring in our illustrious overseas mercenaries at short notice to boost our personnel resources without playing a single real rugby match to blend in with the rest of the locals, who themselves don’t play a uniform brand of rugby, then one can accept that we should be on a hiding to nothing in the RC. If not then the much touted four year building cycle for the WC is a bit of a crock.

    IMO Rassie the ‘meticulous planner’ is in fact winging it folks. If they somehow manage to beat the Aussies no doubt he’ll be called a rugby wizard despite the fact that the Aussies are even more woeful than we are. Keeping the score down in Wellington to reasonable levels will also be considered a ‘win’ and then the Argies will decide where we really stand. Of course losing all four will be no problem as we are after all building for the WC a month later. The old ‘smoke and mirrors’ trick beautifully executed by our smiling coach.

    No doubt folks will complain that I paint a very bleak picture here and I apologize for that. Too many years now of wholesale underachievement by our teams and it does take it’s toll. We have had ‘Protea Fire’ which turned out to be a damp squib and now we have the ‘The Unstoppables’ jersey to take with us to the WC. All marketing ploys obviously but does tend to make one a wee bit cynical at the end of the day.

    So the die has been cast and it’s into the fray they go. Despite my misgivings I wish them well. Like us they are mere pawns in this Bok story and who knows maybe the stars will finally align for us. They will need to because I still maintain Rassie is winging it. Oh and I haven’t even mentioned the ‘colour juggling’ that will have to play out but that’s another story for another day, let’s wait for the final squad. Cheers.

    All I can say

    • Tobokani

      Apart from putting out an all Lions Springbok 23, do you have any better solutions or ideas?? You seem to harp on about the problems without pointing to any solutions. Anyone can point out problems though.

      • Herman

        Too late for solutions my friend Rassie and his predecessors saw to that. I’ve been beating this drum for six years now and nothing has changed we just plod on and on , I’m just pointing out the inherent weaknesses in our systems since 2009 and the failure of SA to adapt to the modern game , Lions and Blitzbokke exempted of course. If unsuccessful in the RC and WC this year it will be TEN, yes TEN years since we won a meaningful trophy on the international stage. If you settle for that then good luck to you.

        By the way your silence on the subject helps these under performers to continue on their merry way and encourages acceptance of the mediocrity they produce on an ongoing basis with no accountability to speak of. Rassie can blow both these competitions this year and he will still be in charge next year.

        So to answer your question, I’m being positively negative. Cheers.

  • Herman

    Only proves it’s pointless bringing in these overseas mercenaries. Build from within and develop a team culture for a change. Those guys play at the behest of their employers. Cheers.

    • Dean Bright

      Asb Herman catch a wake up. If Faf, Willie, Duane and Kitshoff (who was brought back to SA) the team would be significantly weaker. Those guys made the biggest difference last year. You talking KAK now because next year RG, Lood, Eben, Mostert, Pollard etc etc will all be overseas players. Are you saying now don’t pick them either?

      • Herman

        Faf being a Lion is OK, naturally, Willie is a spent force and out of form back ‘home’. He only helped turn the first two home tests against England around and then like the rest faded away to contribute to another failed Bok year. DV had his moments but you can still count his ‘steals’ on one hand. Kitshoff is a dime a dozen, all our props are on the same level, just about acceptable. I could go on but you are obviously happy with mediocrity so enjoy it.

        I’ve been saying for years that they mustn’t rely on these mercenaries. I’ve also said that if Ackers was picked to coach the Boks back in 2016 we would have an established home grown team with an identifiable game plan by now. They would certainly not have done any worse than what AC and Rassie have dished up these past three years. A negative win ratio between them and ranked a poor fifth on the world rankings table is all they have to show for it despite a solid injection of mercenaries.

        A final point. If you think we can get away with loading up our Bok team with the guys you mentioned, each playing in different teams overseas with different game plans and cultures and then bring them together at short notice to fill the Bok team then you are sadly mistaken my friend. NONE of the teams ranked above us do it but our lower ranked team can ? In fact we tried it last year and it didn’t work, not so ?

        A reality check for you son. Cheers.

        • Dean Bright

          Your first line shows how bias you are, if you’re a Lion it’s okay. Willie is not a spent force, he was actually really good in all the games he played last year. Cannot fault any of his performances. He’s one of our real x-factor attacking threats. Duane’s overall contribution to the team outdoes players who are 5 years his junior. You rave about Whiteley but he’s constantly injured, he probably won’t even make the WC squad this year. Uh, your Kitshoff comment is very short sighted. When Kitshoff was starting prop by the end of the year, even the opposition commentators were calling him the best loosehead in the World at that stage. He smashed Vunipola last year and with Moody out injured he was probably the best.

          Your comment about Ackers is all speculation. Can you see Ackers being Bok coach and leaving out Mostert, Jaco Kriel and Faf because they are overseas players? Nonsense.

          In response to your last paragraph. It’s the way of the future with SA rugby bankrupt and unable to hold onto star players. There’s a reason why our BEST are going over there and getting paid insane amounts of money. You don’t value them but the rest of the World does. And who would want to stay in SA when you can earn 5x the amount of money, with less rugby played, better facilities and almost no crime.

          • Herman

            The Faf, Lion comment was taking the piss and you fell for it but in any case it is one position that we really needed to bring in someone half decent. Fatty props are a dime a dozen over here but the scrummie must have some modicum of class. Which players are better is immaterial really because the system stinks and clearly form is not a priority for Rassie. Tell me how are our players, no matter who they pick, going to gel into a cohesive unit in a weeks time ? Fortunately we only play the Wobblies but I’m sure even they will have more cohesion than we have.

            Whiteley’s injuries are unfortunate but fully fit is the only player capable of leading SA. There are no other of the so called leadership group who can point to any measure of success in any international tournament imo. Kolisi is window dressing, DV lacks rugby smarts, Pollard has done nothing ( QF jitters ? ) and Etzebeth is plainly not fit for the job including his temperament amongst other shortcomings in the captaincy role. No standouts therefore Rassie’s co captaincy fallback which normally doesn’t work.

            Splitting the team going to work ? I have my doubts the sooner Rassie concentrates on the best XV the better, they need game time together more than anything else and bugger the travelling factor. The Argies show us how on that score.

            The old money argument is a problem but when they bring in these ‘past their sell by date’ mercenaries like Frans ( I’ll play and train at my convenience ) Steyn, Flo Louw,
            Willie, the penalty machine Elstadt, even DV imo etc then you clearly feel that the current local crop are not up to standard. If that is the case then why pick them in the first place, bring in the entire team from overseas.

            People seem to forget that the mercenaries still only play in a ‘club’ environment back home and some haven’t seen an AB jersey in front of them in a test match for years. I said it once and I’ll say it again Rassie is winging it and he knows that he can get away with it. Let’s see how he is going to juggle the ‘ transformation’ ball as well. We’re in for some ride. Cheers.

  • Dean Bright

    Cool interview with James Small!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbsiAx4-Tto

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