Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus looks set to explore a few captaincy alternatives in the Rugby Championship, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Siya Kolisi is currently recovering from a serious knee injury sustained during the latter stages of the Super Rugby season. While his return date is yet to be confirmed, the Bok skipper looks set to miss the opening Rugby Championship match against Australia on 20 July.
It will be interesting to see how things play out in the coming weeks. The recent call-up of Marco van Staden – who joined the Bok alignment camp in Pretoria on Monday – suggests that Erasmus is taking no chances in the loose-forward department.
Erasmus may field a second-string side against the Wallabies in Johannesburg and send a group of first-choice players to Wellington to prepare for the subsequent clash with the All Blacks. How Van Staden fits into the plan remains to be seen.
The Boks aren’t short on openside options at present. Both Francois Louw and Marcell Coetzee have enjoyed extended opportunities in this position at Test level.
Kwagga Smith had a taste of Test rugby last season, as did Van Staden. The uncapped Rynhardt Elstadt has also been touted – somewhat surprisingly – as a No 6 candidate.
The identity of the starting openside, however, is unlikely to be the biggest talking point in the weeks to come. Erasmus may need to explore alternative captaincy options over the course of the Rugby Championship as the Boks wait on Kolisi to make a full recovery.
It’s been clear for some time that Kolisi is the right man to lead the Boks in Japan. With this in mind, Erasmus and company should give the player as much time as necessary to recover. There’s no reason to rush the flanker back for a Rugby Championship tournament that is of secondary importance in a World Cup year.
Duane Vermeulen is the obvious choice to deputise, having dovetailed with Kolisi in the home series against England and on the end-of-year tour to Europe. When Kolisi left the field last year, Vermeulen often assumed the captaincy duties.
Erasmus does have a few other options. Handré Pollard led the Vodacom Bulls in the injury-enforced absence of regular skipper Lood de Jager this season. Former Bok coaches Heyneke Meyer and Allister Coetzee, as well as Erasmus, have spoken about Pollard as a potential skipper before.
Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit have experience in the position. Etzebeth captained the Boks for 10 Tests in 2017 after Warren Whiteley broke down with a season-ending injury. Du Toit was handed the responsibility for the one-off Test against Wales last June.
Both of these forwards have been sidelined with injuries of their own, though, and it remains to be seen how much they will feature during the early stages of the Rugby Championship. Whiteley also looks set to miss most of the tournament.
As mentioned in a previous column, Meyer was forced to explore a couple of captaincy alternatives during a difficult buildup to the 2015 World Cup. Regular skipper Jean de Villiers was coming back from injury, and so Victor Matfield and Schalk Burger were given opportunities to lead the side.
At the 2015 World Cup itself, injuries to De Villiers and Matfield had Meyer turning to yet another leader in Fourie du Preez.
Hopefully it won’t come to that this year, but the Boks should be prepared for the worst-case scenario.
Photo Gordon Arons/Gallo Images