Rassie Erasmus says a younger, less experienced player could lead the Springboks this June if Warren Whiteley and Eben Etzebeth fail to recover from their respective injuries. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Springbok coach returned to Cape Town on Wednesday following the conclusion of the fourth and final planning camp in Durban. Erasmus said he was excited about the coming season, which will commence with a one-off Test against Wales on 2 June in Washington DC. The Boks will tackle England in a three-Test series in South Africa thereafter.
At the same time, Erasmus conceded that a number of issues need to be addressed before the first fixture. At this stage, the Boks look set to field a new captain in the season opener.
‘Injuries do affect the captaincy situation with Warren Whiteley and Eben Etzebeth out injured while other leaders such as Francois Louw [Bath] and Duane Vermeulen [Toulon] are overseas,’ Erasmus said.
‘Siya Kolisi is finding his feet in terms of form, so there are a few guys we are considering. The group will only be announced the week before the Wales Test and we will give it some time.’
Whiteley was the first-choice captain going into the 2017 season. The No 8 sustained a serious groin injury two games into his tenure, though, and did not feature in the remaining Tests.
More recently, Whiteley suffered a knee injury while on duty for the Lions. He was not included in the Lions’ squad for the four-game tour to Australasia, and a date regarding his return is yet to be confirmed.
‘Warren will be a strong contender, but you can’t go into a Test match if you have only played 40 minutes of rugby,’ Erasmus explained, before suggesting that a new captain may be appointed for the Tests against Wales and England.
Etzebeth took the reins in Whiteley’s injury-enforced absence last year. The powerful lock led the Boks in the latter 10 Tests.
Etzebeth is currently recovering from a serious shoulder injury, though, and word from the Stormers camp is that he may not be back before the series against England in June.
‘We are weighing up a few options there and we have four or five guys we could look at,’ Erasmus said. ‘But even if none of those guys are available, we might go with a young gun who has played a lot of rugby this season and is mature enough to handle it.
‘We can’t just sit and wait that the senior or more experienced players are ready. We might have to make a bold call there.’
The new Bok coach confirmed that he has been in talks with a number of senior players based at overseas clubs. While many of them won’t be available for the first Test against Wales, as it falls outside of the World Rugby-sanctioned window, Erasmus could well recall a few for the more important clashes against England.
‘I’ve spoken to a lot of the overseas-based players but let me relate it to the flyhalves in South Africa. Damian Willemse, Elton Jantjies, Handré Pollard and Robert du Preez are all playing well but you might lose three to injury before the June Tests, so you have to have a plan.
‘You need more options, which is one of the reasons we are looking at our stocks overseas. I’ve spoken to Frans Steyn, Bismarck du Plessis, Faf de Klerk, Juan de Jongh, Pat Lambie, Vincent Koch and Duane Vermeulen, but it’s not to say any of those guys are definitely in the mix.
‘It was more of a fact-finding mission to make sure that they are hungry, motivated and still want to play for the Springboks.’
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