Rassie Erasmus has sent a clear message to the Vodacom Super Rugby coaches and players regarding World Cup selection. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Springboks will play five Tests before the World Cup tournament in Japan. The truncated Rugby Championship, as well as the subsequent ‘friendly’ games against Argentina and Japan, will provide Erasmus and his lieutenants with an opportunity to fine-tune the game plan and settle on a final squad of 31.
The Bok coach should have a good idea about the make-up of his squad at this stage. A lot could happen over the next few months, though, and Erasmus’ hand may be forced regarding selections.
Key players could miss the tournament due to serious injuries. One or two uncapped players could force their way into the squad through a series of good performances in the Vodacom Super Rugby tournament – which kicks off on Friday.
‘The Super Rugby coaches have sat down with Rassie and discussed a number of potential players that he is considering for the World Cup,’ Stormers coach Robbie Fleck confirmed. ‘All the franchises are on his wavelength in terms of what he’d like to get out of the competition.
‘Rassie has made it quite clear to the incumbent Bok players that there’s a core group that he’d like to build a team around. But if someone outside the group sticks up their hand, they could be in the mix come the World Cup.
‘Rassie has built some depth over the past few months by trying out some new players. He’s got an idea about who he wants to take to Japan, but he’s also made it clear to us and the players that if there’s an outstanding performer they may have an opportunity – just as Frans Steyn did [ahead of the 2007 World Cup].
‘What that [message] does is force the incumbent group to keep performing at franchise level,’ Fleck added.
The coaches will also be in touch with Erasmus on the subject of player management. Last week, SA Rugby Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit confirmed that a number of Boks will be managed carefully during the Super Rugby tournament. Their game time will be limited to ensure they peak at the World Cup.
Fleck brought up the subject at a press conference at Newlands on Thursday. Stormers skipper Siya Kolisi – who is also the Bok captain – needs to be managed in the next few months. Elsewhere, the Lions will need to look after Malcolm Marx, the Bulls will have to manage Handré Pollard smartly, and the Sharks would do well to ensure Beast Mtawarira isn’t played into the ground.
Erasmus will also be in touch with the coaches regarding another type of player management. Fleck said that Du Toit will be focusing solely on the No 7 position this season – unless injuries to other Stormers locks force him to move back to No 5 for a game or two.
Damian Willemse will get game time at flyhalf and fullback in Super Rugby, as Erasmus hopes to use Willemse in both positions at the World Cup later this year. Willemse will start at No 10 against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday. According to Fleck, the 20-year-old may finish that game in the fullback position.
‘There’s an ongoing chat between the coaches and Rassie,’ said Fleck. ‘There are open lines of communication in terms of managing the player in an important year for South African rugby.’
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