Rassie Erasmus has confirmed who will travel to the USA and – through the decision to omit a host of key players – suggested who may start against England next week, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Erasmus announced on Monday that Pieter-Steph du Toit will lead the Boks in the season-opener against Wales in Washington DC on 2 June. The new Bok coach also confirmed that Siya Kolisi will captain the side across the next three Tests against England.
The latter appointment is more significant. It’s believed that the second-string side will travel to the USA, and that the bulk of Erasmus’ preferred starting lineup will be cotton-wooled ahead of the first game against England.
Kolisi is part of the latter group, and is thus Erasmus’ first-choice skipper for the duration of the series against England and possibly – if Warren Whiteley doesn’t recover from a troublesome injury – the subsequent Rugby Championship.
That announcement would have settled a national captaincy debate that has been raging in the press and in social media spaces for the better part of six months. The call to take Elton Jantjies to the USA and to leave Handré Pollard in South Africa also suggests that the latter will start at No 10 against England.
Bismarck du Plessis and Frans Steyn will play for Montpellier in the French Top 14 final this coming Sunday, and will only link up with the squad early next week. It will be interesting to see if they are rushed straight into the starting lineup, or whether Erasmus eases them back gradually.
Other players who have been involved with overseas clubs include Duane Vermeulen (Toulon), Willie le Roux (Wasps) and Faf de Klerk (Sale). All three are currently in camp with the Boks, and one would expect them to start against England in Johannesburg.
Others who will stay behind when the squad travels to the USA on Wednesday include the new captain Kolisi, Jean-Luc du Preez, Franco Mostert, Tendai Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, RG Snyman, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Robert du Preez, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Sbu Nkosi and Pollard.
It comes as a surprise to see Erasmus selecting Du Toit for the Wales game. The Stormers forward picked up a bug while in Hong Kong two weeks ago and was said to be exhausted upon returning to Cape Town. He was ruled out of the Cape side’s crucial game against the Lions as a result.
Now Du Toit will travel to the USA and back in the space of a week. One cannot see Erasmus pushing Du Toit to start against Wales and then England in consecutive weeks. We may see a new second-row combination in RG Snyman and Franco Mostert fronting at Ellis Park.
At this point, it seems likely that wings Aphiwe Dyantyi and S’bu Nkosi will make their Test debuts in Johannesburg. Unless Warrick Gelant has a blinder against Wales, Le Roux may start at fullback.
It’s also interesting to note that Damian de Allende will not travel to the USA. It would have made sense to pair him with a familiar midfield partner in Jesse Kriel against Wales, and then allow Steyn to start alongside Lukhanyo Am in the first Test against England.
We may see a different kind of back row playing against Wales in Washington. Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Kwagga Smith will give the Boks a lot of firepower on attack. The makeup of the 26-man squad suggests that Erasmus will favour a 6-2 split on the bench, with two loose forwards among the reserves.
The following week, a loose trio of Kolisi, Jean-Luc du Preez and Vermeulen will trouble England on many fronts.
Trevor Nyakane appears to be the favourite to start at No 3 against England. Wilco Louw and Steven Kitshoff may have to be content with bench roles in that first Test.
However you look at it, Erasmus faces an enormous challenge in managing the two squads over the next two weeks.
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