Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus will be under pressure to alter his game plan and selection strategy following New Zealand and Ireland’s big World Cup wins, writes JON CARDINELLI in Nagoya.
The titanic battle between the All Blacks and Springboks in Yokohama provided some interesting answers.
The All Blacks are not as vulnerable as some thought and remain the favourites to win the World Cup. While the Boks have guts to spare, their game plan requires tweaking and the first-choice players need more time to settle and gel as a combination.
I’m sure that Erasmus would have woken up in Nagoya this morning with a thumping headache. The Bok coach went out of this way to give the All Blacks credit after the match on Saturday, yet his demeanour belied his disappointment in the South African team.
He would have watched the Ireland-Scotland clash on Sunday with growing trepidation. Any questions about Ireland’s approach and championship credentials were emphatically answered when Joe Schmidt’s side dismantled Scotland via a brutally effective approach.
The Boks have a long way to go before they can beat the All Blacks in a World Cup final. That was made clear this past Saturday.
They won’t progress beyond the first round of the knockouts, however, if they don’t find a way to combat a physical and tactically astute Ireland side. The past weekend’s results have increased the likelihood of South Africa meeting Ireland in the quarter-finals.
Erasmus has been open and honest about his selection strategy for the pool stage. The first-choice 23 was always going to face the All Blacks in Yokohama and then Italy in Shizouka two weeks later. The second-choice side was set to play Namibia in Toyota this Saturday and then Canada in Kobe in the final pool match.
The policy is aimed at managing the workload of players over the course of a demanding pool schedule. Only three days separate the third pool clash and the fourth, and so one can understand why Erasmus would field two different teams in those fixtures.
That strategy will also ensure that the fringe players keep their match fitness up and are ready to contribute if they are elevated to the first-choice 23 in the playoffs.
The team’s result and performance against the All Blacks in Yokohama may force a rethink ahead of the Namibia game, though. Surely the Boks would want to use two of the remaining three pool matches to settle and fine-tune their game plan before facing Ireland in a do-or-die match.
The alternative is for Erasmus to follow through with his plan to field a second-string side against Namibia. I understand that Erasmus has already told the players who will be starting in which match across the pool stage of the World Cup. The coach may not want to backtrack on his promise to give certain players game time.
Adaptability is key at a World Cup and coaches have to be flexible with regard to their plans on a week-to-week basis. I cannot see how the Boks can press on with their plans to field a completely different side against Namibia when they’ve clearly got so much to improve ahead of a quarter-final meeting with Ireland.
Siya Kolisi left the field after 50 minutes on Saturday. Erasmus said afterwards that Trevor Nyakane was the only major injury concern and that Pieter-Steph du Toit and Cheslin Kolbe were suffering from nothing more than cramps. One would expect Kolisi to face Namibia and to keep working his way back to full fitness.
Elton Jantjies is coming back from a leg injury and it would be great to see him getting some game time against Namibia. What Erasmus needs to decide, however, is whether starting Jantjies is more important than giving Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard more time to gel as a combination.
If De Klerk and Pollard are going to start in the playoffs, they must address their shortcomings sooner rather than later. Namibia are unlikely to pressure the Boks halfbacks but it wouldn’t hurt for the pair to receive more game time together.
Damian de Allende and Cheslin Kolbe were impressive against the All Blacks. They should be rewarded with a rest this week, or even limited to a bench role. Pieter-Steph du Toit is another who deserves a break and his absence should force Erasmus to answer the question regarding South Africa’s next best blindside in the squad.
Erasmus may want more answers about Frans Steyn – who still hasn’t started a Test since rejoining the Boks earlier this season. We haven’t seen Pollard and Steyn starting as a 10-12 combination as yet. It’s a partnership that should give the Boks more tactical kicking options.
Italy thrashed Namibia on Sunday and one would expect the Boks to do the same – regardless of who starts – in Toyota this Saturday. The Boks will be after more than a win against the minnows, though, and the quality of their performance will be all-important.
Photo: Steve Haag Sports via Hollywoodbets