The lack of cohesion and clarity around certain positions in the Bok backline will be an increasing cause for concern, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
When Rassie Erasmus fronted up for a post-match TV interview in Mendoza on Saturday, he looked utterly shell-shocked by the performance that had been dished up by the Boks as they fell to a 32-19 defeat against Argentina.
During Allister Coetzee’s 2016 horror season, the Springboks were humbled in Salta, while Heyneke Meyer looked equally shaken after his side stumbled to a draw in Mendoza back in 2012.
It was also Argentina’s shock win over the Boks at Kings Park in 2015 that forced Meyer to have some second thoughts about his best-laid plans ahead of the World Cup that year.
Fast-forward to the present, and Erasmus is fully aware that time is of the essence as he looks to build a winning culture and player depth in order to ensure a confident squad is in place by the time the 2019 World Cup rolls around.
On Saturday, Erasmus already conceded that he would need to reconsider some of his short-term plans now that the defeat in Mendoza has forced the Springboks into a ‘win at all costs’ mentality ahead of the upcoming tour to Australasia.
Six games into the Erasmus era, and there is no doubt that the Bok coach would have hoped to have a little more certainty around the best combinations and the cover available in the back division.
To break it down, Faf de Klerk has certainly vindicated his recall to the No 9 berth, but replacements such as Ivan van Zyl and Embrose Papier have had minimal game time up to this point, while Ross Cronjé has returned to the Lions.
If De Klerk were to pick up an injury on the eve of the World Cup, the reality is that the Boks would be in a heap of trouble, and yet they now find themselves in a situation where they cannot afford to risk experimenting at scrumhalf.
At flyhalf, both Handré Pollard and Elton Jantjies have failed to find their best form at Test level this year, while the talented but untried Damian Willemse appears to be third in the pecking order.
Erasmus has highlighted the need for the Boks to head to the World Cup with an in-form flyhalf general who can run the show, and he will know that he desperately needs to find a way to bring out the best in these players.
There is no greater clarity in the midfield, with an untimely injury to Damian de Allende having left André Esterhuizen as the only specialist inside centre in the squad currently.
Esterhuizen did his level best to make an impression this past Saturday, but it’s clear that he is still coming to terms with the demands of Test rugby, in a similar vein to outside centre Lukhanyo Am.
Although Am remains the Boks’ best bet at No 13, the defensive requirements of this position continue to test the communication capabilities of the youngster, who is just four Tests into his international career.
Beyond Am, it appears that Lionel Mapoe and Jesse Kriel are battling it out as the preferred candidates to cover both wing and outside centre, with this utility role remaining up for grabs.
In the back three, Willie le Roux, Aphiwe Dyantyi and S’bu Nkosi remain the preferred combination, but it’s unfortunate that an injury to the latter has prevented continuity from being carried into the Rugby Championship.
An injury to Warrick Gelant has also robbed the young fullback of an opportunity to gain further experience at Test level, especially considering that Le Roux could miss the second half of the Championship due to club commitments.
Over the course of the Test season to date, the Boks’ defensive organisation has been exposed on several occasions, and it’s become very evident that the backline is in need of more continuity and cohesion.
Sooner rather than later, the Boks will need to settle on the players and combinations to take the team forward, but it’s really among the backline that some questions over form and depth still need to be answered.
Photo: Daniel Jayo/Getty Images