South Africa’s foreign legion will carry the Boks to world cup glory in 2019! You probably think that I’m inebriated or unrealistically optimistic about the Springboks’ chances in Japan – relax… I know that I’m exaggerating things just a little!
A lot has got to go according to plan (and way beyond expectation) between now and South Africa’s two clashes against New Zealand at the International Stadium Yokohama (Group B opening match on 21 September 2019 and the World Cup Final on 02 November).
Europe and Japan’s demand for our best players has long since exceeded the supply, and one Johan ‘Rassie’ Erasmus knew this from the onset of his term as Bok coach. The joke about how one can select an Overseas Bok XV that would beat the local Bok XV in a three-Test series is irritating and alarming.
Copious amounts of words and paper have gone towards underlining this harsh reality, but it’s notable how, when comparing him to his two predecessors, Rassie has been the most enthusiastic in selecting the overseas Boks. For example, look at how two bolters were brought into the Rugby Championship squad ahead of the Test against Australia in PE on Saturday – nine-Test tighthead prop Vincent Koch and the uncapped utility back Ruhan Nel.
Koch last played for the Boks against Italy in 2016, the year he joined Saracens, and is on record saying that he was surprised by the call up. Despite the fact that Koch will be in the stands on Saturday, his return creates a “nice” headache at No3 with the likes of Wilco Louw, Frans Malherbe, Thomas du Toit and Trevor Nyakane jostling for the jumper.
Considering how Erasmus telegraphed his intentions when he wooed Faf de Klerk, Duane Vermeulen and Willie le Roux for the series against England in June, opportunity still knocks for those in the north. Eighthman, scrumhalf and fullback were troubled positions for the Green-and-Gold over the past few seasons, an admission made by the coach in selecting the three.
Including Koch, Vermeulen, Le Roux, De Klerk, Francois Louw, Cheslin Kolbe, Francois Steyn and Bismarck du Plessis make it eight players who appear to be a part of the Bok plans moving forward. That is a great mixture of world-class talent and experience, something the post-2015 World Cup generation has been sorely lacking.
Guessing wildly, Ruan Ackermann, Marcell Coetzee, Kwagga Smith, Francois Uys, Jaco Kriel, Heinrich Brussouw and Cobus Reinach are among others who may be considered for selection with a very crucial end-of-year tour on the horizon.
If the Springboks hope to win the Webb Ellis Cup they need to have their story well put-together one year ahead of the tournament, which is why the November trips to England, France, Scotland and Wales must answer questions regarding the options available. No one knows what the coaching team and selectors might have in mind, but with team depth still shaky, you just never know how loss of form and injuries might influence them.
I mentioned Ruhan Nel – a noticeably burly 1.91m and 101kg – because his inclusion provides a curious twist to the plot. As far as I’m concerned, the Currie Cup serves up what are often glorified club matches, so for a player to be included in the national squad directly from the competition without having played in Super Rugby throws a lifeline to the other players at home.
Good form will be rewarded, so hopefully those who have been forgotten on the local scene will have added motivation to lift their game.
Flying low are the Southern Kings and Cheetahs’ exploits in the PRO14, where anyone who can impress against the likes of Ulster, Leinster, Munster, Glasgow and Scarlets home-and-away will appear on the the Bok radar.
There are less than 10 Test matches before the Boks jog on at Yokohama, and because the 2016 and 2017 seasons were abortive disasters, Rassie and Co. are racing against the clock.
A home sweep against Australia and New Zealand will probably settle 80 percent of squad selection, and make it fun to watch how players at home and abroad fight for the remaining spots in South Africa’s 2019 Rugby World Cup squad!
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