Developing squad depth for the 2019 World Cup shouldn’t come at the cost of giving important combinations a chance to settle.
Rassie Erasmus stepped into the job with one year to go to the 2019 World Cup and, in the rush to establish a preferred matchday 23 before the trip to Japan, the Bok coach has tried to squeeze three seasons of squad development out of one.
Despite his six-year contract suggesting he may take the Springboks right through to 2023, SA Rugby made it known earlier this week that Erasmus’ legacy will be balanced against what the Springboks can produce at the 2019 World Cup.
Going into the Rugby Championship clash against the All Blacks in Wellington, the Springboks had won 47% of their Tests since the last World Cup, including inaugural losses against Ireland at home, Italy and Argentina away.
Nine of the 15 players to start against the All Blacks have lost more than they’ve won in a Springbok jersey, including some of Erasmus’ seemingly key personal such as Faf de Klerk (35%), Malcom Marx (38%), Steven Kitshoff (43%) and Pieter-Steph du Toit (49%).
Clearly the Springboks are in a habit of losing and something needs to be done before the damage becomes permanent.
Unfortunately, Erasmus’ habit of enforcing weekly, unforced changes to his starting line-up is doing more harm than good, especially as far as achieving the immediate goal of winning. The Bok coach has, on average, made five changes and positional switches to his starting side in each of the last seven matches. He’s tried six different front rows, fielded four loose-forward combinations, and four different centre pairings.
Clearly Erasmus’ preferred general, Handre Pollard has only twice started in consecutive Tests. Pieter-Steph du Toit has worn a number five, seven, 19 and 20 on his back while Siya Kolisi has appeared on both sides of the scrum. Jesse Kriel missed out on selection for the Test against Argentina in Durban, didn’t even tour with the squad to Mendoza, suddenly found himself back in the starting line-up by the time they deployed in Brisbane and has now been named on the wing.
On the bench we’ve had four different reserve hookers, three separate back-ups to Faf de Klerk, and short spells for the likes of Damian Willemse and Lionel Mapoe before both were dropped.
Players need to know that they can take risks and play without wondering if they’ll get the opportunity to do so next week. Similarly, Erasmus should be afforded the breathing space to test his combinations over an extended period of time in order to focus on Tests we can win, rather than fast-tracking that process for a World Cup we simply can’t.
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