Damian Willemse points to an exciting Springbok future but Elton Jantjies shouldn’t become a ghost of their past, writes former Bok scrumhalf NEIL DE KOCK.
The absorbing three-Test series between South Africa and England ended in an arm-wrestle at Newlands owing to the weather conditions. The English, who slowed the game down to good effect, were in no rush to replicate the tempo at which the first two Tests were played.
Rassie Erasmus bemoaned a lack of intensity from the Springboks in Cape Town. However, the bottom line is that you can run out with all the intensity in the world but when your discipline is poor, you will battle to retain intensity throughout 80 minutes. You are always going to struggle to win Test matches when you give away double the amount of penalties.
In an ideal world, Erasmus would have liked to have kept the continuity going and come away with a 3-0 series sweep. The third Test didn’t pay off in terms of the scoresheet but it gave him the opportunity to blood different personnel and see what he has in reserve.
Jantjies was booed off by some Bok supporters before the hour mark and I really felt for him. It was one of those Tests where things didn’t go his way but as players, we have all been there before. It seems the harder he tried, the worse it got for him. Nevertheless, I’m confident Jantjies will learn from the Newlands Test and bounce back. The 27-year-old pivot, with 26 Tests under his belt, will hopefully be afforded the opportunity to right the wrongs.
Post-match, Erasmus never threw Jantjies under the bus but, in the same breath, hinted at including Willemse as part of his Rugby Championship squad. The 20-year-old, who is recovering from a knee injury, would be an interesting option at flyhalf during the four-team tournament from August. Willemse is a very exciting prospect and has performed superbly well for the Stormers in Super Rugby. He’s a fearless young player and would come into the senior set-up with no baggage to speak of. It would be exciting to see a player like him get blooded at Test level but I wouldn’t discard Jantjies. He is resilient and is a true professional.
With only four Tests played in the infancy of Erasmus’ national coaching tenure, to proclaim the Springboks are going to win the Rugby Championship this term is premature. The Springboks are on an upward curve but currently occupy sixth place on the World Rugby rankings. Meanwhile, England, with one Test win in six matches, are back up to fourth place.
I’m not a big fan of the World Rugby rankings because they chop and change frequently. You can read data any one of 10 ways so, for Erasmus, it’s all about the performance on the pitch. It comes down to what he is learning from the players he is providing opportunities to, with the aim of finding out who his best combinations are going forward.
The form South Africa displayed over the course of the inbound series against England suggests that they will definitely be in with a shout. They are likely to prove to be one of the better teams to challenge New Zealand for top spot in the Rugby Championship. However, the benchmark is always going to be the All Blacks and, by all accounts, it will prove no different this season.
The unavailability of Duane Vermeulen for the entire Rugby Championship will be keenly felt by the men in green and gold. Apart from his on-field performances, what Vermeulen brought to the fold during the series was leadership and support for captain Siya Kolisi. Kolisi has spoken openly about Vermeulen’s impact and the latter is going to be missed as much for what he does off the pitch as on it.
However, it’s wonderful to see the inspirational Warren Whiteley playing again and hopefully he is over the worst of his injuries.
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