Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus has made several shrewd recruitments in the lead-up to the all-important Test season, writes JON CARDINELLI.
On Sunday, SA Rugby confirmed the names of 26 players who will attend a Bok alignment camp in Pretoria. Frans Steyn, Marcell Coetzee and Cobus Reinach were among the more notable additions.
None of these players have featured for the Boks in recent seasons. Steyn last played for the Springboks in 2017, while Coetzee and Reinach featured in 2015 but didn’t travel with the team to the World Cup.
And yet, the overseas-based trio have been recalled to South Africa less than three months before the World Cup in Japan for a good reason. Erasmus is looking to build a squad that possesses the necessary experience and quality to compete at a global tournament.
Steyn won the 2007 World Cup with the Boks at the age of 20. He travelled to the 2011 showpiece as one of the team’s key players, and an injury sustained on the eve of the playoffs seriously compromised the Boks’ chances of advancing.
Steyn hasn’t played a lot of Test rugby since that World Cup in New Zealand. He was included in Erasmus’ Bok squad ahead of the 2018 series against England, but withdrew at the 11th hour.
It’s clear that Erasmus wants Steyn involved, and that he feels that the centre can add value to the upcoming campaign in Japan. Erasmus has also made it clear that he will only consider players who possess a burning desire to represent the Boks and restore the team’s once fearsome reputation.
Steyn has started at flyhalf, wing, in both centres positions and at fullback for the Boks. As a utility player, he will cover a lot of positions in the final squad of 31.
That said, the Boks are in dire need of a world-class No 12. Neither Damian de Allende nor André Esterhuizen have made the position his own since the 2015 World Cup.
A case could be made for Jan Serfontein, who started most of the Tests at No 12 in 2017 before moving to Montpellier and joining Steyn in midfield. It would appear, however, that Erasmus prefers Steyn for the role.
Reinach was in Erasmus’ plans for the 2018 tour to Europe. In the end, Erasmus decided to back local scrumhalves Embrose Papier and Ivan van Zyl when first-choice No 9 Faf de Klerk was on club duty with the Sale Sharks.
If Reinach is impressive in the Rugby Championship, he may travel to Japan as one of two experienced scrumhalf options. Erasmus has included Herschel Jantjies in his initial squad of 26, and we may well see the Stormers No 9 fighting it out with the two Vodacom Bulls youngsters for the third scrumhalf spot.
Coetzee’s outstanding performances for Irish side Ulster have been impossible to ignore. His ability to play all three back-row positions would benefit a World Cup squad.
Indeed, while Erasmus may be settled on a starting back-row combination of Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen, injuries could force a change or two. Erasmus has been a fan of Rynhardt Elstadt since they were both working at the Stormers, and the Bok coach has also said that Franco Mostert can slot in at blindside flank if the situation demands it.
It’s interesting to see Kwagga Smith included, presumably as an openside option. Apart from Kolisi and Coetzee, Erasmus may also want to revisit the ploy of fielding Marco van Staden when the Bulls No 6 returns from his side’s tour to New Zealand.
One would expect 15 or so players from the returning Bulls and Sharks sides to join the Bok squad in Pretoria. Sbu Nkosi, Makazole Mapimpi, Jesse Kriel, Lukhanyo Am, Esterhuizen, Handré Pollard, Van Zyl, Papier, Duane Vermeulen, Van Staden, RG Snyman, Trevor Nyakane and Thomas du Toit were all very much part of the Bok side last year.
It wouldn’t surprise to see a few more – such as Warrick Gelant, Curwin Bosch, Dan du Preez, Jason Jenkins and Lizo Gqoboka – getting a call-up.
The announcement of the 26-man squad did raise a few questions and doubts about the omitted players.
The inclusion of tighthead Vincent Koch– who recently won the Champions Cup and English Premiership with Saracens – suggests that Wilco Louw has fallen down the pecking order. It’s seems that Coetzee has been preferred to another overseas-based loose forward in Francois Louw, who started some big games for the Boks last season.
Erasmus confirmed recently that injured No 8s Warren Whiteley and Sikhumbuzo Notshe won’t be ready for the start of the Rugby Championship. It would appear as if Sharks flank Jean-Luc du Preez and Stormers fullback Damian Willemse are in the same boat. Until recently, both were strong contenders for Erasmus’ final World Cup squad.
It will be interesting to see how everything plays out over the next two months. There will be more injuries – as they are part of the sport – and Erasmus will need to adjust his plans more than once before the group arrives in Japan.
INITIAL BOK SQUAD MEMBERS BY POSITION
|BACK THREE||Willie le Roux (Toyota Verblitz, Japan), Aphiwe Dyantyi, (Lions), Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse, France), Dillyn Lleyds (Stormers)|
|MIDFIELD||Damian de Allende (Stormers), Frans Steyn (Montpellier, France)|
|10||Elton Jantjies (Emirates Lions)|
|9||Faf de Klerk (Sale Sharks, England), Herschel Jantjies (Stormers), Cobus Reinach (Northampton Saints, England)|
||Marcell Coetzee (Ulster, Ireland), Pieter-Steph du Toit (Stormers), Rynhardt Elstadt (Toulouse, France), Siya Kolisi (Stormers), Kwagga Smith (Lions)|
||Lood de Jager (Bulls), Eben Etzebeth (Stormers), Franco Mostert (Gloucester, England), Marvin Orie (Lions)|
|PROPS||Steven Kitshoff (Stormers), Vincent Koch (Saracens, England), Frans Malherbe, (Stormers), Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks)|
|HOOKERS||Schalk Brits (Bulls), Malcolm Marx (Lions), Bongi Mbonambi (Stormers)|
*Selected Bulls and Sharks players returning from Vodacom Super Rugby playoffs in Australasia will join the group at a later stage
Photos: AFP/Getty Images