Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus should prioritise experience and physicality in his selections for this Saturday’s Test against the All Blacks in Wellington, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Up to this point of his tenure, Erasmus has played a bold but dangerous game of aiming to establish a winning brand of rugby while also testing out different players, and providing some youngsters with Test-match experience.
In the opening encounter of the season, the Bok coach split his player resources to send a greenhorn squad to face Wales in Washington. Then, once the Springboks had wrapped up the June Test series against England, Erasmus opted to select a number of new combinations for the third and final clash in Cape Town.
And despite a surprise loss to Argentina in the Rugby Championship opener, a half-dozen changes were still enforced for the clash against the Wallabies last Saturday as a new-look team was exposed to a high-pressure environment away from home.
However, the element of risk versus reward has been reflected by defeats in all three of those games, while there are still some serious question marks over certain key positions.
It’s hardly an ideal scenario to be in ahead of Saturday’s crunch clash against the peerless All Blacks, but it’s this sort of matchup that could see Erasmus begin to pick and stick with his strongest available lineup.
For one, Handré Pollard is set to reclaim the No 10 jersey in order to add some extra physicality and defensive strength to the flyhalf channel, and it will be of utmost importance for the 24-year-old to rediscover his confidence in both general play and from the kicking tee.
Then with the All Blacks boasting powerhouse wing options with Waisake Naholo and fit-again Rieko Ioane, it’s understandable that Jesse Kriel is expected to shift out to the right wing berth vacated by the injured Makazole Mapimpi.
In that scenario, Lukhanyo Am will return to outside centre for what is sure to be an intense examination of his defensive abilities, while Damian de Allende should retain the No 12 jersey after a solid outing against Australia.
Up front, the physicality, breakdown ability and ball-carrying strengths of Malcolm Marx will see him start at hooker as expected, while it will be interesting to see if Steven Kitshoff is indeed backed to run on ahead of Beast Mtawarira once again.
Considering the substitutions at prop could well come quite early in the second half, it may be that Mtawarira’s 104 Test caps of experience will be of greater value during the latter stages of the Test when the All Blacks generally turn the screw.
New Zealand are expected to make a number of changes to their lineup as they return to a full-strength XV, with the squad sure to boast far greater experience to that of the Boks.
Nevertheless, the visitors will be desperate to produce a competitive performance that lays the foundation to finally start building some continuity in selection over the final two home Test matches in Port Elizabeth and Pretoria.
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