Lood de Jager deservedly gets another start for Springboks, but having so many locks in the 23-man squad and only two reserve backs for the Italy clash is quite bizarre, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
It’s been a tough couple of years for Lood de Jager as far as injuries are concerned, with the recent shoulder injury almost dashing the Alberton-born player’s 2019 World Cup dream.
That kept him out of the game for four months, before he had half a match against Western Province in the Currie Cup in July to prove his fitness ahead of the Rugby Championship opener against Australia.
He came through those matches with flying colours, and then produced a man-of-the-match display against Namibia in his first outing of the World Cup.
De Jager completed a full 80 minutes in Springboks’ 57-7 win over their African neighbours. He made 43 metres from 15 carries (the most carries in the match) and beat five defenders. He also took all his lineout balls, while he was strong in the tackle.
It was the sort of performance was always going to help him force his way into Boks’ ‘A team’ against Italy, although the man he is keeping out of the starting lineup, Franco Mostert, also had a decent outing the first match against the All Blacks.
Mostert will be on the bench for the Boks against the Italians, who shocked the South Africans in Florence in 2016. He is one of four locks (five, if you count flank Pieter-Steph du Toit …) in the 23-man match-day squad, with Eben Etzebeth partnering De Jager in the run-on team, and RG Snyman also set to come off the bench.
Coach Rassie Erasmus has opted to go for a 6-2 split between forwards and backs on the Springbok bench, with flank Francois Louw also on the substitutes bench.
It’s clear that the Boks are going to try and bulldoze Italy up front and prevent any sort of repeat of what happened in Florence, where the Italians bullied the South Africans in the contact areas and flooded the breakdowns.
But that has left the Boks a bit thin as far as the backs on the bench are concerned. Scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies and utility back Frans Steyn are the only players who can fill positions in the backline in case of injury and fatigue.
Erasmus admitted that one of the forwards on the bench will have to shift into the back division if disaster strikes on Friday, and there are a couple of injuries to the run-on backs.
For that reason, playing four locks – excluding Du Toit – may be ill-advised. A better option on the bench would have been flank Kwagga Smith, who has the speed and the skills to slot in the backline in an emergency.
Seriously, if the Boks are worried about being overpowered by Italy, then they may as well play with a whole bench full of forwards against the likes of Ireland in the playoffs.
You don’t want to tempt fate at the World Cup or not have all your bases covered. We’ve already seen two upsets at this World Cup. Hopefully, for the Boks, there are no nasty surprises on Friday.
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) October 1, 2019