A desire to finish the year with winning momentum may see Bok coach Rassie Erasmus limit changes for Saturday’s Test against Wales in Cardiff, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Last year, this final Test of the year fell outside of the international window, and ultimately saw an under-strength Bok side slip to a third successive defeat in Cardiff.
On this occasion, the Springboks will head into the clash with the option of picking close to a full-strength side, although Erasmus did confirm on Monday that Faf de Klerk will not be recalled from his English club this week.
It means that Embrose Papier is likely to retain the No 9 jersey after impressing in his run-on debut against Scotland. Suitably, this weekend’s clash is possibly also set to be played under the roof of the Millennium Stadium, although no rain is predicted for Saturday.
As Erasmus has pointed out, the Springboks have only five more Test matches before next year’s World Cup, and that’s why it will be interesting to see which selection policy is adopted for this week. Will he opt to rest some battle-weary players and draft in a few newcomers, or stick with the tried and tested?
There are a number of players on tour who have yet to receive any game time, with Gio Aplon, JD Schickerling, Schalk Brits, Trevor Nyakane, Louis Schreuder, Sergeal Petersen, Ruhan Nel and Sikhumbuzo Notshe yet to go on to the field.
In an ideal world there is no doubt that Erasmus would like to see, at the very least, what some of these players can offer before the tour comes to an end, but the Bok coach may also understandably be somewhat hesitant to change a winning team.
The Springboks have endured hard struggles against Wales in recent years, and suffered a defeat in a one-off Test in Washington earlier this year. They will certainly feel that they now owe the Welsh one.
Over the last fortnight, the Boks have built some momentum with gutsy wins over France and Scotland, to take their win percentage to 54%, and they will be desperate to see that figure rise closer to 60 by claiming another victory.
It all adds to the factors in play, and will make Erasmus’ selection decision all the more tricky this week, although he will at least be hoping to have Eben Etzebeth back from injury.
As it is, Erasmus suggested on Monday that they certainly cannot afford to take a dangerous Wales team lightly.
‘In our view, Wales are definitely the most difficult opponent we will face on this tour. [Coach] Warren [Gatland] has managed to build a superb side with lots of experience, and they are playing a good, balanced game, plus they have good depth and quality in their squad.
‘I really think the World Cup will be an open race next year, obviously the All Blacks and Ireland are clear front-runners, but Wales are one of the teams that are hovering there or thereabouts.
‘They are almost like a silent assassin, and so if we can manage to get a win this weekend, it will really give us hope because it would be another likely World Cup contender who we will have experienced a win against this year.’
POLL: Who will win Saturday’s Test in Cardiff? #WALvRSA
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) November 20, 2018
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images