A victory over England this Saturday would enable the Boks to continue expanding their squad capacity in the third and final Test against England, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Bloemfontein.
At the start of the Test season, Rassie Erasmus has clearly stated that he wants the Boks to establish a winning culture as soon as possible, but another aim is for this to be complemented by building squad depth with the 2019 World Cup in mind.
The Bok coach has insisted that he will continue to make bold selection decisions in order to test out new players in pressure situations, and see if they sink or swim once thrown in the deep end.
On Tuesday, it was a sentiment echoed by assistant coach Matt Proudfoot, who outlined the goals for the Springboks to become a holistic, dynamic team with more than just one option in each position.
The good news for the Boks is that last weekend’s memorable win over England has provided some capacity for a couple of other big-picture selections to be made as the hosts head into Saturday’s Test in Bloemfontein.
By the looks of it, this will see Pieter-Steph du Toit handed a start at blindside flank, which will provide Erasmus with the opportunity to examine his options beyond young Jean-Luc du Preez in a position where there isn’t an abundance of depth.
Stormers prop Frans Malherbe is also expected to start his first Test since last June – having since recovered from a neck injury – with Wilco Louw in line for a well-deserved rest.
Erasmus has also said he was very impressed with the performance of André Esterhuizen on his Test debut against Wales in Washington earlier this month, and the burly centre may well receive another opportunity – if not this Saturday, then quite possibly in the final Test at Newlands.
And therein lies the rub. Should the Boks claim victory this Saturday to take an unassailable 2-0 lead against England, it will enable Erasmus to expedite his plans to test out different players and combinations.
If the series is wrapped up, the Bok boss could then look to hand talented Bulls fullback Warrick Gelant a start next weekend, while perhaps also providing the platform to bring a versatile player such as Jesse Kriel into the match 23.
There would also be a capacity to consider handing Steven Kitshoff and Thomas du Toit a starting berth for the final clash, or for the recalled Schalk Brits to have a run off the bench and show whether or not if he still has some gas left in his 37-year-old tank.
Make no mistake, the Boks will have set their sights on a 3-0 whitewash of England, but a win at the Free State Stadium would provide some breathing room to test out the wider squad and offer increased game time to different players – whether it be starting or off the bench.
The Boks have openly admitted that they have one eye on the World Cup, and are fully aware that they cannot afford to be conservative in selection when there are just 17 Tests remaining until the global showpiece.
Erasmus knows that there will be less room for experimentation in the gruelling Rugby Championship, but he is determined to ensure that players such as Aphiwe Dyantyi, S’bu Nkosi and Lukhanyo Am receive decent Test exposure before next year’s World Cup squad selection date rolls around.
First things first, though, and that is for the Boks to secure a victory this Saturday in order to enjoy some luxury in decision-making for next weekend’s final Test of the England series.
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