The Springboks will be looking to achieve a variety of carefully-considered objectives in Saturday’s third and final Test against England, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Cape Town.
The Boks have engendered plenty of optimism over the past fortnight following back-to-back wins over England that have seen them take an unassailable 2-0 series lead ahead of the final clash at Newlands.
It’s a set of results that have helped ease the pressure on a new-look team, who now head into this weekend’s game with a view to claiming a series whitewash. It has, however, already been confirmed that there will be at least ‘four or five changes’ to the Boks’ match-day squad this week.
One of these changes will see recalled Schalk Brits come into the mix – most likely off the bench – while coach Rassie Erasmus continues to speak highly of powerful centre André Esterhuizen, who appears due for an opportunity.
In last weekend’s important win at Free Stadium Stadium, substitutes such as Steven Kitshoff, Thomas du Toit and Jesse Kriel also all impressed off the bench, and Erasmus may well consider elevating such players into the starting lineup.
It’s such options that should keep England guessing, and while there may not necessarily be wholesale changes planned for this week, there is expected to be an element of ‘experimentation’ that factors into the selection equation.
‘I think getting used to each other is something that can take some time depending on what sort of pressure you come under,’ Erasmus commented on Monday. ‘I’d say there’s a better understanding of how we want to work and handle things as a team within our system. It’s been good to see that growth, and on the field we’ve also improved in areas we previously thought could be a weakness.
‘Our kicking game and aerial skills are improving. Tactically, I also think there’s been a better balance in terms of attack and defence. We’re not exactly where we want to be just yet, but slowly but surely we are getting better.’
It speaks to the Boks’ desire of establishing a winning brand of rugby, while testing out different players with a long-term view of building a tried and tested squad that will be suitably experienced under pressure by the time the 2019 World Cup rolls around.
‘We have a lot of young guys in the team, but it’s so important to see how they perform in different situations, and for us as coaches to trust them and allow them to learn from their mistakes,’ Erasmus explained.
At the start of this Test season, Erasmus’ Boks have thus far taken positive strides in terms of exposing new players, embracing transformation and building a new team culture – all while claiming two important victories to keep the critics at bay.
Erasmus said he had also been pleased with the Boks’ ongoing skills development, which he suggested could even be traced back to the various coaching indabas that took place midway through Allister Coetzee’s tenure.
‘Credit to Allister and the guys who started the indabas, and got the coaches together to chat about some core fundamentals that they wanted to get right. I have no doubt that we are getting players more equipped with skills to attack better, and the franchises in Super Rugby and the Pro14 are currently all playing their part.’
Indeed, it’s worth keeping in mind that while the Boks have set their sights on a series clean sweep, they do have more than one objective in mind ahead of Saturday’s final Test.
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images