Bok coach Rassie Erasmus can invest in a forward pack that boasts a combination of skills, brains and brawn at this year’s World Cup, writes former Bok hooker JAMES DALTON.
I’ve always maintained that a forward is defined not by his ball-in-hand capabilities, but by his off-the-ball impact. In a World Cup year, this is more important than ever, especially when it comes to investing in South African rugby’s traditional strengths.
We need not look further than the 1995 World Cup success and the forward pack of the 2007 World Cup-winning Springboks that dominated the tournament to understand that Rassie needs to invest in players and combinations reminiscent of these two great sides, if we are to see similar glory.
Both the World Cup-winning sides of 1995 and 2007, especially the forwards, were defined by their physicality and their conditioning, not by their tryline dives and fancy offloads. In ’95, Kitch Kristie was clear with the players about what their roles would be, and they were picked for their ability to fulfil these roles rather than to be dazzling on attack.
And it is this approach that the Springboks must have when picking their core pack of 2019. Further example is evident in Nick Mallett’s 1998 side of players. They may not have been considered the most flamboyant, but were principally sound and went on to match the then All Black World record of 17 wins in a row.
The starting back row against New Zealand in 1995 valued the mongrel of Ruben Kruger, although on paper he could have been seen as a smaller loose forward. Along with the physicality and work ethic of captain Francois Pienaar and No 8 Mark Andrews, though, it was a combination that worked.
Similarly in 2007, the starting loose-forward outfit was Schalk Burger, Juan Smith and Danie Roussouw (the match-winning tackler), not only some of South Africa’s hardest forwards ever, but arguably the hardest working too.
All these players mentioned were defined not by their flash, but by their work rate off the ball and on defence, the areas of the game where a match is won, almost always in pressured cases such as the World Cup.
In light of these wishes, Erasmus’ Rugby Championship squad is promising, and granted the right combinations are picked, the 2019 Springboks have a group of players that can emulate the 1995’s World Rugby underdogs and the 2007 side’s equal success.
As I mentioned in my previous column, Erasmus’ willingness to combine both local and overseas talent is the best thing for the Springboks, and it has allowed for players like Franco Mostert to be included.
Mostert is an ironman, and embodies the qualities Erasmus should be looking for in his World Cup squad: conditioned, plays towards the ball, works incredibly hard off it and is consistent in defence. Most of the forwards share Mostert’s qualities to some extent, with the likes of Duane Vermeulen and Malcolm Marx most similar in overall impact in my eyes.
It is unfortunate that Marco van Staden initially appeared to have been overlooked ahead of the Rugby Championship as I believe that there is space for a specialist opensider in the squad, especially one with his work rate. However, one cannot fault Erasmus on the loose-forward selections he has made; we are simply spoilt for choice.
The same applies to our locks, who are among the best in the world and offer a balanced combination of physicality, set-piece and handling skills that are reminiscent of pairings like Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield, and Hannes Strydom and Kobus Wiese. Again, it’s the picking of this combination of skills and brawn that is imperative.
Erasmus has the quality and character among his forward options to pick a 2019 pack that can dominate equally and do justice to the ones of 1995 and 2007, and this should give the South African public a lot of hope as we draw nearer to the World Cup.
In 1995 we entered the tournament as unknowns and finished it as World champions. This was due to a style of play that valued grit and guts, over glitz and gloating.
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