Who to wrap in cotton wool?

With David Pocock and Mako Vunipola in a race against time to recover from injuries before the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and injury concerns hovering over the likes of Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit, the AOR team debates which Springbok is so invaluable that he should immediately be pulled from Super Rugby duty.

Tank Lanning – Duane Vermeulen
In the build up to the last World Cup, Heyneke Meyer’s selection masterstroke was to eventually name Francois Louw, Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen as his starting loose trio in 2012.

Regarded by many as the best trio on the planet, perhaps the best the Boks have ever produced, they were blunderbusses with ball in hand, gainline bullies, a handful in the collisions, and fiercely competitive at the breakdowns. Front-foot ball by the bucket load!

And perfectly balanced.

In an effort to replicate that balance and power, Rassie Erasmus could have kept Louw and replaced Alberts with Jean-Luc du Preez, who, together with Vermeulen, would form a pretty damn exciting loose trio.

But Louw has been injured, Du Preez is not Alberts, and Vermeulen is four years older. Enter new skipper, Siya Kolisi, who adds an athletic, physical, industrious, ball-carrying balance as a utility loose forward.

Kolisi will play 6, but not as an out-and-out fetcher, hence the massive value placed on Vermeulen’s skill at the breakdown.

As a package, and given the balance he brings to the loose trio, he is not replaceable, so having the bullocking Bulls eighthman fit and available for the World Cup is a non-negotiable for Erasmus.

Without him, Erasmus then starts pondering life with Warren Whiteley at 8, but the fellow has not played any rugby! Or perhaps Dan du Preez as a poor man’s like-for-like replacement? Might those options see Pieter-Steph du Toit confined to 7 instead of it being an interesting option? Or a ball hawk like Louw or Marco van Staden at 6, with Kolisi playing a more roving role at 7?

These are headaches Erasmus can ill afford. Put the big man on ice. Now!

Zelím Nel – Handre Pollard
Ever since Rassie Erasmus turned his attention from the Stormers to the Springboks he’s contended that the Rugby World Cup has never been won by a flyhalf younger than 24.

He again confirmed this position last year when asked about Damian Willemse’s 2019 Rugby World Cup prospects.

The Bok coach was referencing Jonny Wilkinson who was 24 when he kicked that game-winning drop goal against Australia to clinch the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

I’m a big believer in Erasmus’ technical nous and an even bigger believer in stats, and this one is not for nothing. However, there should be an asterisk next to the threshold figure in this case because Aaron Cruden was 22 when he jogged on in the 10 jersey for the All Blacks in the 2011 Rugby World Cup final. Admittedly, he was replaced after 34 minutes by Stephen Donald (27 at the time), but the fact remains that New Zealand started a 22-year-old flyhalf and went on to break a 20-year world championship drought.

The average age of the starting 10 in the team that wins RWC finals is 26.5, but it’s worth noting that the losing flyhalf is (on average) only three months younger. Perhaps even more pertinent is the fact that 6 of the 8 finals have been won by the younger flyhalf.

Beauden Barrett turned 28 on Monday; Elton Jantjies will be 29 in August.

What bearing does all of this have on the debate, you’re wondering. Well, Erasmus’ belief in age and experience at the flyhalf position is largely behind his decision to persist with Jantjies, instead of investing time in Willemse’s development. Jantjies has 33 Test caps while 21-year-old Willemse has just five.

The problem is that Jantjies’ age and experience belies a flyhalf who has missed the most tackles in Super Rugby in each of the past two seasons. And almost 40% of his Test caps have been earned off the bench, while 20 starts include historic losses against Argentina, Wales and New Zealand.

Willemse is in my opinion the most promising flyhalf prospect South Africa has produced since Butch James, but he hasn’t been groomed to start in Japan.

Though Handre Pollard (25) is far from perfect (uses too much ball, takes unnecessary contact, average distribution), he’s won more Tests than he’s lost and, factoring in experience, is currently the best available option.

Erasmus has Jantjies second in line and that means, if you want Siya Kolisi to hoist the Webb Ellis Cup on November 2, Pollard has got to stay healthy between now and then.

OK, you’ve read what they think, now let us know which way you’re leaning, or join the #BigDebate on Twitter!

- Big Debate

Let's chat

  • Barry

    Unquestionably go with Zelim on this one. Handre is vital to our WC efforts and has given 100% thus far.

    By total contrast, Vermeulen has been on extended leave for the past 13 weeks and based on current performance should not be considered for the squad let alone a starting berth!

    Form players are what we are looking for, not reputations from last year!

    Those in favor of Verneulen should take a closer look at his stats – quite honestly embarrassing. Have a look at the stats of the Bulls two loose forwards this past weekend and then compare those to Vermeulens!!

    Last WC we had the ruck inspector as a passenger and it seems we’re aiming for the same again this year

    • Barry

      These were the player stats after round 10 – I have halved Coetzee’s because the Pro 14 stats were over 20 games.

      Vermeulen D. Du Preez Coetzee

      Tries 2 6 4
      Try assist 0 1 ?
      Points 10 30 20

      Passes 14 71 ?
      Runs 61 126 95
      Clean break 1 9 8
      Defdrs beaten 14 30 19
      Off Loads 2 13 9

      Turn Overs 2 11 10
      Tackles 64 95 88
      Miss Tackles 11 9 ?

      Perhaps bloggers will appreciate this is a genuine concern!

      • Chris Mouton

        The stats don’t lie. Dan du Preez is in great form at the moment! I would have Coetzee in the team without question as well. Make it happen, Rassie!

  • John Comyn

    Agree with both. If it were a toss up I’d go with Pollard. Lets not forget that Duane spent time in Japan. It might mean nothing but any little advantage will help. Add Marx, Faf & Willie and we have the spine, The good news is Faf and Willie are finished for the season.

  • boyo

    Neither is wrong but Zelim is more right! We could play Marcel coetzee at 8 as a like for like with Duane but if Elton starts we in trouble and there is no one else.

    Another is Marx we can only play Siya at 6 because of Marx fetching from 2.

  • John Comyn

    Elton as 2nd choice poses a serious problem. He has the highest “missed tackles” in SR rugby, year on year, for the last 3 years.

    • Dean Bright

      Bosch at 20 yrs old has more BMT than Elton who is 28 yrs old.

    • Greg Shark

      Lucky Hermie is missing in action for a while, he’d have a LOT to say about how ‘good’ Elton is….

  • John Comyn

    Exactly :-) I was trying to draw him out the woodwork. He’s not biting just yet!

  • Graham

    As a life long bulls fan, the difference without pollard is frustrating but I would gladly give him up for the season to be ready world cup time. No other player is so necessary for our success. We can make a plan with every other position, even 9 that has been a problem but the drop from the best 10 to the backup is huge. Elton does have his moments but you need a solid 10 to win a WC, consistent, and nobody else comes close that we can choose from.

  • Dean Bright

    Pollard for sure. What about testing Frans Steyn at flyhalf in the upcoming RC. He has BMT and when he played there for the Sharks, he controlled the game. If you going to play Elton at 10, I’d pick Steyn inside of him. Big, good tackler and he’ll take some of the pressure off Elton.

  • Chris Mouton

    I’d rest Pollard without a doubt. SA is spoiled for loose forwards. Elton doesn’t cut it for me, sorry to say. He’s had his chances. I’d have Bosch as a backup. Willemse hasn’t done much to impress me at 10. Maybe he can be a backup 15 as Gelant is largely anonymous…

  • Slakkie G

    I back Bosch at 10 on the bench, Pollard to start
    Marcelle Coetzee is a good player we need him, Duane is overated
    Elton had many chances but he keeps slipping up
    we can even put Pollard at 12 and start bosch at 10 and bench Elton
    then again will Lleyds be one of the wings and Kolbe we can use him at 15
    if we dont use the players in the correct positions we will not win the world cup
    SA has got some talent we did good against the New Zealand teams in Super Rugby this year
    De Allende hasnt been in form we need a good inside and outside centre

  • Herman

    Sorry folks late on this one and again am astonished at just how poor the understanding of the real problems in the Bok setup really are. This is not a case of who to put in cotton wool but what game plan we will be taking to the WC. If all those mentioned above are included and Rassie’s dom krag game plan is followed then we will have exactly what we have now experienced with the Proteas at the cricket WC, poor preparation, poor skills and no mental toughness.

    First of all Rassie is overrated. I know this is repeating the obvious on my part but his so called ‘meticulous planning’ amounted to a crock of rubbish in the end. Even poor old Alistair only lost 4 matches in his second year. Rassie seven in his first ( losing to five countries ) and he called on the overseas ‘superstar’ mercenaries by the dozen to bolster his team. The Wellington ‘miracle’ had unfortunate consequences because it became the template for the Boks this year and the teams with rugby smarts put them away.

    Going forward to this years SR and the same applies. The Stormers, Bulls and Sharks ( the Dom Krag Trio ) remained stuck in their dom krag haze and their inconsistent performances were so reminiscent of the Boks last year. The Lions despite the loss of 50% of their top players and initial hiccups are again on the rise. The two top teams in the Conference are the brilliant Jags and the Lion cubs. It’s no coincidence that they play a similar expansive game plan.

    What can be done about it at this late stage ? Absolutely nothing I’m afraid. I’ve been saying this since 2014 and it amazes me that I’m saying it FIVE years later, we do not have enough smart coaches in this country to coach the expansive stuff and I include Rassie here. Too many average players with average skills, if any, are currently playing. Thinking you can bludgeon your way to a WC win with dom krag defence and no variation or skill is simply not going to happen. Our injury attrition rate is very high. Why ? The defence at all costs syndrome because the coach and players are not ‘rugby smart’ enough and revert to the much easier option to coach.

    Why haven’t we developed a team and playing style like the Jaguares ? Proper defence, great attacking skills and and plenty of smarts and mental toughness. For those who think they are the Argentinian national side think again. Eight of their best players play in Europe and will be returning for the RC and WC. Compared to SA they have a fraction of the player resources we have yet punch well above their weight. We have no excuses for our lack of success since 2009 just poor planning and a stunted game plan despite the Lions at least giving us something to plan around.

    It matters nought who we put in cotton wool or don’t the entire process is skewed and the chances of WC success is practically nil in my opinion. Heyneke Meyer tried what Rassie is doing right now and it failed miserably. But like everything else we just stumble on in blissful ignorance year in and year out. Where is a real leader to take us out of this ongoing cycle of failure ? Not in this current crop I’m afraid. Cheers.

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