Elton Jantjies, Damian Willemse, Rob du Preez and several others should be looking to prove a point to Rassie Erasmus in the Currie Cup playoffs, writes JON CARDINELLI.
By now, the Springbok coach should have a good idea about the makeup of his squad for the four-Test tour of Europe next month. The Boks will face England at Twickenham on 3 November, and then France, Scotland and Wales thereafter.
Faf de Klerk and Handré Pollard finished the Rugby Championship as Erasmus’ preferred halfback pairing. Erasmus may be tempted to stick with De Klerk at No 9 and Pollard at 10 this November – if the former is available.
That said, Erasmus has to start backing other players in these positions as well as two or three other halfback combinations with a view to the 2019 World Cup. Perhaps he will gain some insights from the coming playoffs.
To say the Currie Cup is not the tournament it once was would be a gross understatement. These days, the Bok coach selects players based on their performances in the Super Rugby competition. Erasmus blooded a host of Super Rugby stars in the June series and several more in the Rugby Championship.
And yet Erasmus should watch the domestic knockout matches with interest. The chief decision-makers across the four sides – those who have already featured at Test level this season – will have the opportunity to prove a point.
There’s been talk of leaving Josh Stander at flyhalf and Willemse at fullback when WP host the Blue Bulls at Newlands this Saturday. Stander was excellent in the weather-afflicted contest at Loftus Versfeld last week, and coach John Dobson may feel that a more tactically astute 10 is better suited to the knockout task.
Backing Willemse at flyhalf, however, could benefit the Stormers and the Boks down the line. We’ve already seen what the Cape franchise can do when the multi-talented youngster is operating in that position of responsibility. He’s already played in the Currie Cup playoffs, having started at fullback in last year’s decider. More will be learned about his ability to handle the pressure if he is backed at pivot over the next game or two.
If not now, then when? Erasmus is likely to travel to Europe with at least three flyhalf options in Pollard, Jantjies and Willemse. Jantjies should share the starting duties with Pollard on that four-game sojourn, with Willemse receiving game time from the bench – as was the case in the recent Rugby Championship.
While Jantjies is one of the more senior players in the Bok set-up, he hasn’t enjoyed a lot of game time at Test level this season. A short stint in the Currie Cup may allow him to shake off the rust before the tour to Europe.
It remains to been seen whether Rob du Preez or Curwin Bosch will start at flyhalf for the Sharks this weekend. Both played for the Boks in the season opener against Wales. Neither has featured since.
Bosch was one of the standout players in the Currie Cup last year. In the decider, however, he took some poor options and was exposed on defence. Erasmus and his lieutenants will be watching the semi-final at Kings Park with interest to see whether the 21-year-old has made the necessary improvements.
The respective scrumhalves will have a point to prove. Ivan van Zyl started against Wales in June, while De Klerk started in all of the subsequent nine Tests. Erasmus has to develop alternatives to De Klerk on the coming tour to Europe, though, and a strong decision-making performance by the chief contenders in the Currie Cup knockouts will give the Bok coach food for thought.
Van Zyl and Embrose Papier will be under a lot of pressure at Newlands this Saturday. How they respond could influence their position in the Bok scrumhalf pecking order this November.
Of course, there’s been no sign that Erasmus is absolutely convinced that Van Zyl and Papier must go to the World Cup next year. The Bok coach may select at least one more experienced player among his scrumhalf contingent. More seasoned nines like Louis Schreuder and Nic Groom could force their way into the mix on the back of strong showings in the Currie Cup playoffs.
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