Rassie Erasmus’ gamble to select Herschel and Elton Jantjies will only pay off if the Springboks forwards hammer their Aussie counterparts, writes JON CARDINELLI in Johannesburg.
Mzwandile Stick made a big statement earlier this week. When asked to assess Herschel Jantjies – who will make his Test debut against the Wallabies on Saturday – Stick said that the 23-year-old has what it takes to become one of the greatest scrumhalves South Africa has ever produced.
The Bok backline coach’s comments regarding the starting halfback combination, however, were particularly interesting.
Stick said that the pack has to provide Herschel Jantjies and Elton Jantjies with a solid platform at Ellis Park. He waxed lyrical about Elton’s ability as a game manager, and then added the qualifier ‘when he receives front-foot ball’.
This leads one to wonder what could happen if the Bok halfbacks spend most of the game on the back foot.
In that scenario, Herschel – playing in his first Test – will be targeted. And as Stick himself has suggested, Elton can be susceptible when the opposition backs and loose forwards have extra momentum.
The Bok halfback pairing will be key on Saturday. Their decision-making will determine how well the backline gels and executes.
But again, the new firm of Jantjies and Jantjies will be hard-pressed to make an impact if they are operating on the back foot.
Rassie Erasmus mentioned this at the team announcement on Wednesday. He’s selected a big, physical pack to set the platform for an experimental halfback combination – and indeed an experimental backline – to fire.
The first-choice side has already arrived in New Zealand to prepare for the next Test against the All Blacks. There is enough power in the combination picked to face the Wallabies, however, to ensure the Boks get their season off to a winning start.
Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit should provide excellent lineout options. Du Toit, debutant Rynhardt Elstadt and Francois Louw have the potential to disrupt the Wallabies at the gainline and collisions.
Louw and Bongi Mbonambi will be tasked with matching Wallabies opensider Michael Hooper and company at the breakdown. Marcell Coetzee could also have an important role to play in this area when he’s introduced in the second half.
It’s easy to make predictions based on the qualities of each individual player. The big question is how long these untried back-row and halfback combinations will take to gel.
Like Erasmus, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has picked a strong forward pack. Cheika has also made some interesting selections in that big-name players such as Will Genia and Kurtley Beale have been picked on the bench.
The Wallabies aren’t going to win their first game at Ellis Park since 1963 if they don’t win the set pieces, collisions and breakdowns. If they manage to disrupt the Boks in this area, and successfully target Herschel and Elton Jantjies, they will improve their chances of breaking the highveld curse.
The second half promises to be a more open affair. Genia and Beale could inject more speed into the Wallabies game during this period. The visitors have been on the highveld for the past two weeks, and should be acclimatised to the altitude by now.
Cobus Reinach and Frans Steyn may have a big role to play if the game is still in the balance. Both have the game management skills – and in Steyn’s case, the big kicking game – to close out the contest.
It remains to be seen, though, how the players returning from the northern hemisphere cope with the intensity and speed of a Test played on the highveld.
The strongest South African and Australian sides won’t feature this Saturday. The game will mark the beginning of a Rugby Championship tournament that will serve as an opportunity to prepare and experiment ahead of the all-important World Cup.
And yet, it will matter a great deal for the players involved. What’s more, both coaches should get some important answers regarding which individuals and combinations are worth investing in ahead of the global tournament.
Springboks – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Francois Louw, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth (c), 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Dillyn Leyds.
Wallabies – 15 Tom Banks, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Reece Hodge, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nic White, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Lukhan Salakai-Loto, 5 Rory Arnold, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper.
Subs: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Jack Dempsey, 21 Will Genia, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Kurtley Beale.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images