Jacques Nienaber will reap short and long-term benefits by selecting an A and B side across five international matches in July, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Consider how many players Rassie Erasmus used between the start of his tenure in June 2018 and the final match before the World Cup squad selection in August 2019. The Springbok coach cast his next wide, recalling players from overseas and backing a host of untried youngsters.
Erasmus used 58 players over a period of 18 Tests. As a result, the Boks travelled to the World Cup in Japan knowing that their wider group – and not just the 31 selected for the tournament – had what it took to succeed.
The good news for Erasmus and new coach Jacques Nienaber is that 30 of the 33 players who featured at the 2019 World Cup will be available for selection in 2020. Beast Mtawarira, Francois Louw and Schalk Brits have retired from international rugby. The rest should – form-permitting – be in the mix right up to the British & Irish Lions series in 2021, while the majority of the group could push on to play in the 2023 World Cup.
That said, Erasmus and Nienaber will leave nothing to chance. The coming season will provide the Bok brains trust with the opportunity to experiment with more players – young and experienced – with the short- and long-term in mind.
The July window will be massively important in this regard. One can understand why there is a push to stage two more internationals during that period.
Georgia may face SA A on consecutive weekends before tackling the Boks in a historical Test on 18 June. The Boks, of course, have already committed to Tests against Scotland on 4 and 11 July.
Despite the success of the 2019 season, Nienaber will be determined to start the 2020 campaign off on a winning note. That determination should be reflected in his selections for the first two Tests against Scotland.
The SA A matches will see fringe players and uncapped youngsters getting an opportunity, while the Test against Georgia may witness a more experimental lineup. Erasmus and Nienaber will be searching for answers ahead of an important Rugby Championship campaign. They will also be assessing players with future Tests in mind.
It’s been only four months since the Boks proved a point at the World Cup in Japan. If some fans and critics are to believed, the bulk of the World Cup-winning squad should make way for the uncapped youngsters that have shone across the first five rounds of the 2020 Super Rugby tournament.
The reality is that the bulk of that World Cup-winning squad continues to perform at a high standard. Whether they’re competing at home or abroad, these players are putting their hands up and showing why they must be in the mix this July.
It’s a great headache for a national coach to have. Apart from the players that did duty at the global tournament in Japan – assuming Siya Kolisi, Bongi Mbonambi and a few others recover from their long-term injuries – there is a group of players that was unlucky to miss out on World Cup squad selection. Marcell Coetzee, Rynhardt Elstadt, Scarra Ntubeni, Sikhumbuzo Notshe and a few others may finally get an extended chance to shine in July.
Erasmus and Nienaber are all too aware about the need to maintain a balance between youth and experience. We should expect to see the likes of Aphelele Fassi getting a run, even at some point across the three Tests. Wandisile Simelane, Joseph Dweba and Yaw Penxe could also make the step up sooner rather than alter.
A SA A side was used in a similar manner in 2016 and 2017. There’s reason to believe, however, that the approach to the A side will be different in 2020 and that the players involved will work more closely with the senior coaches.
The SA A series should be a valuable and entertaining exercise. The chance to see the stars of the future should not be missed. There should also be an opportunity to field more experienced players in that side and to strengthen combinations. Just as we saw A and B teams alternating at the 2019 World Cup, we may see two different sides operating this July with the ultimate aim of building the country’s depth.
Erasmus and company got a lot right in 2019. Recent developments suggest that the coaches want to take the Boks forward in 2020, and that they want to build a national side that will remain at the pinnacle of the game for years to come.
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