The Springboks only have four matches to play before they face the All Blacks in Yokohama City. The AOR team debates which position needs the most attention during the Rugby Championship to confirm SA’s best matchday 23 for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Zelim Nel – SCRUMHALF
Faf de Klerk started 10 of 13 Tests for South Africa in 2018, with Ivan van Zyl and Embrose Papier renting the No 9 jersey when the Sale Sharks halfback was released for English Premiership duty.
Having established himself as the clear-cut starter during Rassie Erasmus’ first season at the helm, De Klerk will head into the World Cup with the confidence gained from this year sustaining the form that led to his nomination for the World Player of the Year award in 2018.
The Boks are still coming to grips with the nuances of a defensive system predicated on full-throttle linespeed, and De Klerk’s aptitude for blitzing his opposite number at the breakdown, and making clutch one-on-one tackles, means his role in the run-on side indispensable.
The Boks went 1-2 when Van Zyl or Papier started in November last year and it’s safe to say that an injury to De Klerk would cast a long shadow of doubt over South Africa’s hopes of winning the World Cup.
But he played 1,688 minutes of rugby in 23 consecutive starts for Sale this season, and that’s why it’s imperative that Cobus Reinach logs plenty of playing minutes during the Rugby Championship.
At this point of their careers, neither Van Zyl nor Papier can hold a candle to the Northampton Saints scrum-feeder. Not only is Reinach a world-class option, he is also very much a like-for-like replacement for De Klerk.
Both players were shortlisted for the English Premiership Player of the Season, and Reinach walked away from the Saints’ prizegiving with Players’ Player of the Season and Supporters’ Player of the Season.
Reinach hasn’t featured for the Boks since 2015 and recalling him to start during the Rugby Championship would serve the dual purpose of getting him back up to Test speed while limiting the risk of De Klerk being fitted for a moon boot before the World Cup.
Tank Lanning – TIGHTHEAD PROP
Zels has indeed identified a problem position for Rassie Erasmus, and in recent times, this very column has explored the world of pain that would be inflicted by injuries to Duane Vermeulen or Handre Pollard.
In my book, the call to ditch Wilco Louw is beyond strange, and not taking a gander at Carlu Sadie after an impressive season for the Lions raises the question: who is going to stuff themselves into the No 3 jersey?
Erasmus will likely only take five props in his 31-man squad, hence the obsession with developing so called ‘swing props’ like Trevor Nyakane and Thomas du Toit who can play on both sides of the scrum. Stuffing up careers so that we have a Player 31 for the World Cup every 4 years makes me grumpy, but that is a topic for another day!
Frans Malherbe and Vincent Koch are the only true tightheads in the squad, so they will go to Japan. After an iffy season, Malherbe can consider himself lucky, but in this seasoned veteran – by all accounts a great team man
– Erasmus has a banker. He might not dominate, but will use his experience to find a way not to be dominated.
Koch is a fantastic selection after an impressive stint with Sarries, where he has honed his craft. He needs to prove that he has ironed out a kink in his game that saw him mixing mostly champagne scrumming with a little shizer, and that’s why I would start Koch in the first two Rugby Champs matches.
Nyakane and Du Toit will then need game time to prove they have what it takes to play tighthead at international level. We know they can play loosehead, because that’s how they earned their professional contracts. So I would give each of them a start and a game on the bench covering only tighthead.
You’ve read what they think, now let us know which way you’re leaning, or join the #BigDebate on Twitter!