Rassie Erasmus has a pretty good idea of what his starting team will look like at the World Cup. However, he may still have a few sleepless nights about the makeup of his bench, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
Springbok boss Erasmus has managed to cultivate some excellent depth and player resources since taking over the job last year. Suddenly the Boks have at least two top players in every position and will go to the World Cup with a massive shot of winning the title.
It’s a great position to be in, especially as it’s going to take a 23-man effort on match days to beat New Zealand in their pool and all the other challengers in the knockout rounds.
But while there is a dogfight for places, the starters pretty much pick themselves. The team that beat Argentina in Salta to clinch the Rugby Championship is likely to take on the All Blacks in South Africa’s first World Cup match on 21 September.
However, the makeup of the substitutes – especially those in the back division – is still up for debate.
The Boks do have a number of versatile players who can play in various positions in the backline. Those players are a real bonus to have, especially if the coach decides to go with a mix that only includes two backline players.
A replacement scrumhalf will more often than not be one of the two or three backs on the bench. Herschel Jantjies looks set to deputise for Faf de Klerk in Japan, while Cobus Reinach is likely to be the third choice.
The idea of having Cheslin Kolbe starting on the wing and also covering scrumhalf is a long shot, and something that will only happen if two of the Boks’ No 9s go down with a stomach bug on the morning of a Test match.
This leaves two spots open for backs if Erasmus decides to go with a four-three split in terms of forwards and backline players.
Frans Steyn has featured on the bench in all four Tests the Boks have played this year. He has come on mostly at inside centre and took the ball through the middle with a lot of venom.
He can also cover flyhalf and have played for the Boks at fullback earlier in his career. However, he isn’t as quick as he used to be, and essentially only covers 10 and 12. He also hasn’t yet showcased that game-changing attributes which all South Africans are craving for.
So, do you then rather go with flyhalf Elton Jantjies on the bench? A player who has the running and passing game to inject a bit of impetus in the Bok effort in the last quarter of a Test match?
Jantjies is unfortunately only limited to the No 10 position, but this could also have first-choice flyhalf Handre Pollard moving to inside centre, as was the case when the Boks beat the All Blacks in Wellington in 2018.
It’s unlikely that Jantjies and Steyn will feature together on the same bench. Jesse Kriel will probably line up in the No 23 jersey, as he is a dynamic player who can slot in at outside centre, wing and even fullback.
It’s quite bizarre that Steyn hasn’t started one of the Tests, which could suggest that his fitness isn’t where it should be at the moment. But at his best, and when he is firing at 100% capacity, he is a match-winner. Jantjies, though, also showed some real BMT by slotting crucial penalties in Saturday’s Test against Argentina.
Erasmus certainly has a big of selection headache when it comes to his bench. But it’s certainly one of the nicer problems to have.
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