Rassie Erasmus faces a tough call between managing his top players and fielding a pack that can neutralise Scotland’s breakdown bandits, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Erasmus has blooded 19 new caps over the past 12 Tests. He’s experimented with a variety of combinations with a view to the 2019 World Cup.
The Bok coach made it clear at the start of his tenure that player development was a priority. He also stressed the need to secure results and build momentum ahead of the all-important 2019 season.
Have the Boks realised that latter objective? At this point, their 2018 record reads: won six, lost six. There will be plenty at stake in the coming games in Edinburgh and Cardiff, especially with regard to results.
Erasmus will be looking to finish the year on a high and possibly with a 57% win record. It’s nothing to cheer about when one considers the All Blacks’ run in recent times. It would represent progress, though, when one remembers the Boks’ overall record in 2016 (33%) and 2017 (54%)
So, should Erasmus pick his strongest available side ahead of the matches against Scotland and Wales with a view to banking those results?
The Boks went down to England two weeks ago, and nearly lost to France last Saturday. Selecting a pack that can subdue a Scotland side that lives on the edge of the breakdown laws is the very least the Bok coach can do.
And yet his decision may not be so simple when one considers the bigger picture. Erasmus has promised to give the less experienced players as well as those on the fringes more game time on this tour. He also has a responsibility to rest and manage some of the first-choice stars, though, as they will have key roles to play at the 2019 World Cup.
Beast Mtawarira will play no part for the Boks on this tour due to injury. The upside is that the veteran prop will have some time to rest after playing 839 out of a possible 1,360 minutes for the Sharks and 318 out of 800 minutes across the first 10 Tests of the Boks’ season.
Du Toit, Siya Kolisi, Handré Pollard, as well as overseas-based players such as Willie le Roux and Faf de Klerk will also need to be rested at some point with the 2019 World Cup in mind.
Du Toit played 990 out of a possible 1,280 minutes for the Stormers this season. He’s played every Test for the Boks in 2018, racking up 863 out of possible 960 minutes.
Kolisi has been similarly overplayed. The Stormers skipper was on the field for 1,043 out of a possible 1,280 minutes during the Super Rugby tournament. Erasmus has tried to manage the flanker’s game time at the Boks, but Kolisi’s stats of 800 out of possible 960 minutes must be cause for concern.
It would be a bold call to rest either Kolisi or Du Toit – especially the skipper. The numbers suggest that this course of action will be necessary if South Africa hope to have the pair fit and firing at the 2019 World Cup.
With Warren Whiteley unavailable for the Test against Scotland, Erasmus is likely to move Duane Vermeulen – who did not play at all for the Boks in the Rugby Championship – back to his preferred position of No 8.
Erasmus will have the option of starting Kolisi and Du Toit on the flanks. That combination – which started against England in June – appears to be South Africa’s strongest and most well balanced at present.
Perhaps Erasmus will consider giving Du Toit a break and restoring Francois Louw on the flank. While Louw is a different type of player, he has the experience, the physicality and the breakdown street-smarts to make an impact in a match of this nature.
We may see several changes in the backline. One would hope that Erasmus selects players and combinations that don’t compromise South Africa’s ability to secure the result. One would also hope to see Erasmus backing a powerful pack that has the ability to set the platform for the less seasoned or utilised backs.
There is pressure on Erasmus to field Embrose Papier and Elton Jantjies in the coming weeks. The former is a newcomer to Test rugby while the latter is renowned for his ability to translate front-foot ball into scoring chances.
The Bok coach needs to bear this in mind when selecting his pack. He has to give those halfbacks the chance to excel.
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