The latest trim to the Springbok squad has provided the clearest indication yet as to the composition of the 31-man World Cup squad, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
On Sunday, a final 36-man Springbok training squad travelled to Bloemfontein for a four-day camp. Yet, by Monday afternoon, coach Rassie Erasmus confirmed four more players would be released.
Lizo Gqoboka, Marvin Orie, Thomas du Toit and Andre Esterhuizen all headed back to their provinces and will be available for Currie Cup selection this weekend.
If there’s any ray of hope, some might suggest that a standout individual performance this weekend could sway Erasmus at the last minute, but that’s highly improbable.
This week in Bloemfontein was touted as a World Cup camp, and it will be all about preparing the travelling group for the trip to Japan. For one, the team has opted to be tucked away in Bloem to avoid any further media spotlight or distractions.
It’s unlikely that any efforts in a watered-down Currie Cup will alter the shape the Bok squad has taken.
Instead, the four released players look set to feature on the standby list, who will need to be on the ready should there be any injuries at the World Cup.
In further significant news, it was confirmed that Marcell Coetzee had also been ruled out of the World Cup due to an ankle injury.
The unfortunate loose forward must be wondering just what he has done to anger the rugby gods. Four years ago, he was also struck down with an unfortunate injury prior to the World Cup, and again misfortune has struck at the worst possible time.
Coetzee appeared to suffer the ankle injury early on against Argentina in Saturday’s Test, and yet played on until he was eventually forced from the field with a head knock.
Consider for a moment that the 28-year-old played on with an injury that will require surgery. It’s this sort of heart and determination that prompted Erasmus to hint after the match that Coetzee was likely to travel to the World Cup if he recovered.
At that time, Erasmus was likely speaking without yet knowing the full severity of the injury, and it is an undeniable blow that the Boks will travel to Japan without a player capable of featuring across all three back-row positions.
So where does that leave the Boks?
As it stands following Coetzee’s injury, and the departure of four players to their domestic side, the squad includes 18 forwards and 14 backs. One will need to be cut.
The unavailability of Coetzee means that Kwagga Smith, Rynhardt Elstadt and Francois Louw could all earn inclusion to provide backup to the first-choice loose-trio combination of Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen.
There is space for four second rowers : Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert (first choices), as well as RG Snyman and Lood de Jager (backup).
Steven Kitshoff and Beast Mtawarira will cover loosehead prop, while Vincent Koch, Frans Malherbe and Trevor Nyakane provide options at tighthead, with the latter also adding extra value due to his ability to play on both sides of the scrum.
Erasmus has already confirmed Faf de Klerk, Herschel Jantjies and Cobus Reinach will be travelling as the three scrumhalves, while Damian de Allende, Frans Steyn, Lukhanyo Am and Jesse Kriel are the midfielders left in camp in Bloemfontein.
Steyn will also cover No 10 in case of emergency, while Kriel is capable of providing backup at wing or fullback should the need arise.
Handre Pollard and Elton Jantjies are the two specialist flyhalves, while outside backs Cheslin Kolbe, Willie le Roux, Makazole Mapimpi and Sbu Nkosi have booked their tickets to Japan.
With Kolbe another player who can cover fullback, it appears that Gelant may ultimately end up being the unlucky one in the current training squad who could miss out on World Cup selection.
It would be a tough break for Gelant, who has been solid in everything he has done on the Test stage this season, but if the Boks opt to take just 13 backs to the World Cup, he may be surplus to immediate requirements.
However, if the Bok coaches opt to go a different route, the alternative would most probably see a shootout between Elstadt and Smith, with Gelant perhaps then just sneaking into the squad in that scenario of a 17-14 forwards-to-backs squad split.
The announcement of the 31-man squad takes place on 26 August at 3pm in Johannesburg.
Here is the probable squad I foresee:
Forwards (18): Schalk Brits (Bulls), Lood de Jager (Bulls), Pieter-Steph du Toit (Stormers), Rynhardt Elstadt (Toulouse, France), Eben Etzebeth (Stormers), Steven Kitshoff (Stormers), Vincent Koch (Saracens, England), Siya Kolisi (Stormers), Francois Louw (England), Frans Malherbe (Stormers), Malcolm Marx (Lions), Bongi Mbonambi (Stormers), Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks), Franco Mostert (Gloucester, England), Trevor Nyakane (Bulls), Kwagga Smith (Lions), RG Snyman (Bulls), Duane Vermeulen (Bulls).
Backs (13): Lukhanyo Am (Sharks), Damian de Allende (Stormers), Faf de Klerk (Sale Sharks, England), Elton Jantjies (Lion: ), Herschel Jantjies (Stormers), Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse, France), Jesse Kriel (Bulls), Makazole Mapimpi (Sharks), Sbu Nkosi (Sharks), Willie le Roux (Verblitz, Japan), Handre Pollard (Bulls), Cobus Reinach (Saints, England), Frans Steyn (Montpellier, France).
Photo: EPA/Christiaan Kotze