For the first time in years, the World Cup year offers a host of contenders without one clearly dominant side, writes former Bok hooker JAMES DALTON.
New Zealand, who for the last decade have been favourites match after match, look to have more questions than answers, while South Africa appear to be growing out of their troublesome period. England and Wales, the premier sides of the northern hemisphere, have both won and lost to each other in their two encounters this year.
The excitement ahead of the tournament should be huge, as 2019 has showcased the vastness of World Rugby’s current pool of talent. What excites more is the depth that the Springboks boast beyond their best XV in comparison to the other sides, who would see themselves stretched thin were there to be injuries to key players.
Take the loss of Brodie Retallick, for example, whose absence thus far has upset the All Blacks’ game immensely and unsettled the middle row entirely. The Springboks, conversely, can reach beyond the probable lock pairing of Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert, and draw on either RG Snyman, Lood de Jager or even Pieter Steph du Toit, who is currently one of the best blindside flanks on World Rugby’s circuit, but is equally comfortable in the second row.
Rassie Erasmus and his team have managed, in a short space of time, to build a depth that emulates – not quite to the same extent – but very similarly that of the All Blacks side of 2015.
Where they had the likes of Sonny Bill Williams and Beauden Barrett coming off the bench, the Springboks have utilised guys like Francois Steyn, Pieter-Steph Du Toit and Malcolm Marx in the second half.
This is a product not only of good management, but also the selection of South Africa’s best, both locally and abroad, and in doing so equipping the team with a holistic experience of rugby conditions.
The fact that Bongi Mbonambi has come into form so definitively this year as to make the hooker spot contestable – where one would have thought Marx the only and obvious choice previously – is testimony to a greater squad dynamic and buy-in that deliver all the players conditioned, committed and peaking at the right time.
The other factor evident in the Boks’ current team dynamic is the enormous leadership presence. Many players, whether starting, on the bench, or within the greater squad dynamic, have a wealth of experience and play strong leadership roles.
The Boks of 2019 have managed to build promising depth and settle into a clear and concise structure of rotation and style of play, which appears to be bought in to by every player within the squad.
In what will be one of the most strongly contested World Cups recently in terms of global quality, South Africa now have the player depth to match the other rugby powers – something they definitely lacked in recent years.
The Boks stand among Wales, England and the All Blacks (if they are to sort out their selection woes) as the team best equipped with players to travel to the World Cup.
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