The Springboks need to end their losing run against Wales and begin the Rassie Erasmus-era with a bang in Washington DC on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
‘SA Rugby can make a few bucks.’ This is what Erasmus had to say about the one-off Test in the USA when he was asked about it in late April.
Indeed, both SA Rugby and the Welsh Rugby Union look set to benefit from a fixture that could be described as little more than a financial exercise. Erasmus and Warren Gatland named their respective squads for the far-flung sojourn this week, and it didn’t surprise to see a host of first-choice players omitted from both outfits.
The bottom line? Both the Boks and Wales have bigger fish to fry this month. South Africa will host England in a three-Test series from 9 June, while Wales will travel to Argentina for a two-match tour.
That said, the game in Washington could impact on the subsequent Tests in South Africa and Argentina. While many of the first-choice Bok players have been rested, others like Pieter-Steph du Toit may have to overcome travel fatigue ahead of the first game against England next week.
Erasmus has preferred to focus on the positive of an extra match – and thus an extra opportunity to prepare – a year out from the World Cup. The game in the USA should give the coach a chance to see how the second- and third-choice players fare.
The Bok side named to face Wales has a very experimental look. Seven players in Travis Ismaiel, André Esterhuizen, Makazole, Mapimpi, Ivan van Zyl, Kwagga Smith, Jason Jenkins and Ox Nche will make their Test debuts on Saturday. A further six players in Akker van der Merwe, Thomas du Toit, Marvin Orie, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Embrose Papier and Rob du Preez could make their first Test appearances from the bench.
Pieter-Steph Toit will lead the team for the first time. Curwin Bosch will make his first start, and while Chiliboy Ralepelle is something of a veteran, he hasn’t featured in the run-on side since 2010.
There’s not a single established combination in this week’s starting XV. It’ll be interesting to see how the back row of Smith, Oupa Mohoje and Du Preez goes as a unit, and whether Van Zyl and Elton Jantjies can bring the best out of a backline stacked with exciting individuals.
The Boks have battled against Wales in recent times. They suffered a record 27-13 loss in Cardiff in 2016, and went down 24-22 at the same venue this past December.
In fact, the last time the Boks beat Wales was in the 2015 World Cup quarter-final at Twickenham. Perhaps another fixture on neutral ground will culminate in another South African victory.
Wales are missing most of their big names. The Boks won’t have to contend with Alun Wyn Jones at the lineout or Sam Warburton at the breakdown, or worry about Leigh Halfpenny punishing them with his accurate goal-kicking. Like Erasmus, Gatland has made it clear that this is an opportunity for the second- and third-stringers to prove their worth a year out from the World Cup.
They shouldn’t want for motivation, though. A win would mark Wales’ third successive victory against the Boks, and their fourth in five games. That would be some achievement by Gatland and his charges considering that, prior to 2014, Wales had recorded just one win against South Africa in over 100 years.
While Erasmus is right to focus on the subsequent England series, he will not want to begin his tenure with a defeat. In this respect, the pressure is on the senior players in the side – Du Toit, Jantjies, Jesse Kriel, Mohoje and Ralepelle – to ensure that the Boks get over the line.
Springboks – 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Oupa Mohojé, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit (c), 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Rob du Preez, 23 Warrick Gelant.
Wales – 15 Hallam Amos, 14 Tom Prydie, 13 George North, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Ellis Jenkins (c), 6 Seb Davies, 5 Cory Hill, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Nicky Smith.
Subs: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Rhys Patchell/Gareth Davies, 23 Hadleigh Parkes.