Marcell Coetzee and several others will have the chance to perform in the final Test before the Springboks depart for the World Cup, writes JON CARDINELLI.
By now, coach Rassie Erasmus should have a good idea regarding the makeup of his 31-man World Cup squad. The match against Argentina in Pretoria on Saturday may provide him with a few more answers.
Some of those selected for the final clash before the team departs for Japan won’t make the initial cut of 31. There is a chance, as we’ve seen in past World Cups, that one or two players will receive a call-up in the event of injuries.
One of the most interesting selections of the week is that of Scarra Ntubeni. The move would suggest that the Stormers and Western Province player has climbed to fourth in the No 2 pecking order.
Erasmus has made it clear that Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi and Schalk Brits will travel to Japan as the Boks’ three hooker options. Akker van der Merwe featured against England last June, but has since fallen out of favour. Erasmus has often spoken about bringing Bismarck du Plessis back into the group, but the world-class No 2 hasn’t featured at all since 2015.
Ntubeni may feel that he has a point to prove this Saturday. He was first included in the Bok group back in 2013 and forced to carry his blazer at various camps over the next few years.
At Loftus this Saturday, he will have the chance to show why he deserves a cap and why he should be considered if one of Marx, Mbonambi or Brits breaks down with an injury at the World Cup.
Several other players could find themselves on standby. The 31-man World Cup squad will be announced on 26 August, but Erasmus will surely sound out a few other players about the possibility of joining the Boks in Japan in the event of injuries.
At the very least, Marcell Coetzee should be among the players on that list. An argument could be made for his inclusion in the 31-man squad, although it would be based on his feats in club rather than Test rugby over the past season or so.
Coetzee will have an extended opportunity to prove himself against Argentina this Saturday. He made some strong contributions off the bench against Australia several weeks ago, but the coming game will mark his first start for the Boks in four years.
It remains to be seen if Erasmus will take a second blindside-flank specialist to Japan. Pieter-Steph du Toit has established himself as the first-choice No 7, although he may have to cover at No 5 if there are injuries. Duane Vermeulen, Siya Kolisi and Francois Louw have all played blindside at some point during their Test careers, but are better suited to other positions.
There is room for Kwagga Smith and Coetzee to feature in a six-man loose-forward group in Japan. If Erasmus decides to take five back rowers instead of six, however, he will have to choose between Smith and Coetzee.
Coetzee boasts the ability to play all three positions. Smith, however, has enjoyed two starting opportunities thus far and Erasmus may feel that the Lions man has done enough to go to the World Cup.
On Saturday, we will see what Coetzee can offer as a ball-carrier and defender. The World Cup demands a tighter approach, especially in the playoffs, and perhaps Coetzee will give Erasmus some food for thought in a scrap against the combative Argentinians.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone to see so many of the senior players rested for this particular game. While some like Siya Kolisi need another run before the World Cup, most will be looking to avoid serious injury before the more important games in Japan.
As far as the second- and third-choice options are concerned, Cobus Reinach will be another to watch in this fixture. Elton Jantjies hasn’t played since the game against Australia and might want to show why he should be considered for a role in the match 23 going forward.
Erasmus may look to empty his bench early in the second half. While he will want to bank another win – and increase the chances of heading into the World Cup with an undefeated season record – the Bok coach should also be keen to get a few more answers regarding several fringe players.
Smith and Marco van Staden have both been named among the reserves. We may well see Van Staden replacing Kolisi – whose game time will be managed in this clash – with Coetzee moving to No 7 and Smith getting a chance at No 8.
Even now, in the final game before the World Cup squad announcement, Erasmus may look to experiment further.
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images