Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus must explore a couple of scrumhalf and inside centre options based in Europe before settling on his final World Cup squad, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The big debate on social media at present is whether Lizo Gqoboka – the form South African loosehead prop this season – should go to the 2019 World Cup. With Erasmus set to back veteran Beast Mtawarira, as well as the established Steven Kitshoff, many have wondered if there is room for another loosehead in the final squad.
Erasmus, however, is likely to pick eight front-rower forwards in the group of 31. Two looseheads, two tightheads, one swing-prop and three hookers should be on the plane to Japan. At present, Gqoboka’s Vodacom Bulls teammate Trevor Nyakane is the favourite to play the swinger role, covering loosehead and tighthead.
It’s a conversation that highlights South Africa’s strength in the front-row department. Gqoboka, Coenie Oosthuizen and Thomas du Toit are just some of the props who may miss out on selection. Bismarck du Plessis and Akker van der Merwe could also be watching the tournament on television, unless one or more of Erasmus’ preferred three hookers succumb to injury.
The Boks are still looking strong at lock despite the recent setbacks. Lood de Jager may yet recover from a serious shoulder injury to start at No 5 in the big World Cup matches. That would allow Pieter-Steph du Toit to focus on his best position at blindside flank.
Marcell Coetzee’s outstanding performance for Ulster this past weekend would have made an impression. The flanker has declared his desire to represent the Boks at a World Cup after missing out in 2015.
The Boks are not in the market for more flankers from overseas, though – at least not yet. Since his appointment as head coach in early 2018, Erasmus has been on the hunt for scrumhalves and inside centres that can contribute to a successful 2019 World Cup campaign.
Erasmus’ move to bring Faf de Klerk back to South Africa last season was inspired. The former Lions No 9 has continued to perform for Sale Sharks in the English Premiership, and was recently included on the shortlist for the RPA’s Players’ Player of the Year Award.
The Boks will need more than one experienced option at scrumhalf when they travel to Japan, though. Cobus Reinach has also been nominated for the aforementioned award after producing some game-shaping performances for Northampton. The Boks could use a player like Reinach at the World Cup.
Can Erasmus afford to take two young scrumhalves in Embrose Papier and Ivan van Zyl to the global tournament? Or will one have to remain behind?
Both were in the national mix last year, although neither received a great deal of game time. Papier came into the 2019 season desperate for game time at both national and franchise level.
The management of the two players – who both play for the Bulls – has been questionable in this year’s Vodacom Super Rugby tournament. Papier should be playing at that level as much as possible in the lead-up to the international season – and not languishing in the Supersport Challenge, as he did last weekend.
The No 12 position has proved problematic for different reasons. Erasmus has often dropped names such as Frans Steyn and Jan Serfontein into the selection conversation. The availability of both players, however – who currently reside in Montpellier, France – has been an issue since Erasmus’ first series at the helm last June.
Steyn has won a World Cup for South Africa. Serfontein started in midfield the last time the Boks beat the All Blacks in South Africa back in 2014. Either individual would add value as a player and leader. Either would boost the level of experience in a largely green backline.
No South African player has made the No 12 position his own since Jean de Villiers retired from international rugby in 2015. While Damian de Allende has the individual ability to rip through defences, he is still struggling to attain the awareness and linking ability characteristic of world-class 12s.
Erasmus may feel that he has enough cover in other positions to deal with a centre crisis – Handré Pollard played No 12 during the latter stages of several Tests last season, while Lukhanyo Am also has the vision and skills for the job. But does he know who should travel to the World Cup as the first-choice inside centre – and possibly the only specialist inside centre in the group?
Has De Allende or André Esterhuizen done enough in recent months to command a starting place, or does Erasmus need to recruit Steyn or Serfontein ahead of the Rugby Championship?
It’s worth exploring what these players offer to the Bok setup before the World Cup squad is picked. If anything, it may force De Allende and Esterhuizen to raise their respective games in the lead-up to the crucial global tournament.
BOK INJURY LIST*
|TRAVIS ISMAIEL||Wing||Shoulder||Late June|
|JESSE KRIEL||Centre||Ankle||Late June|
|PIETER-STEPH DU TOIT||Loose forward||Shoulder||Next week|
|WARREN WHITELEY||Loose forward||Knee||Unspecified (next few weeks)|
|LOOD DE JAGER||Lock||Shoulder||Early July|
|JASON JENKINS||Lock||Pectoral||This week|
|BEAST MTAWARIRA||Prop||Knee||Early June
*Bok players used in 2018 season