Rassie Erasmus looks set to make a number of changes this week with the long-term aim of developing strength in depth before the 2019 World Cup, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Boks beat England 23-12 in Bloemfontein on Saturday to take an unassailable lead in the series. Afterwards, Erasmus declared it an important result, and then went on to outline his plans to make changes in the third and final Test.
The Bok coach remains hungry for a 3-0 series triumph over one of the strongest teams in world rugby. Looking beyond the June Tests, Erasmus knows that time is running short in terms of developing individuals and indeed a well-balanced squad for the 2019 World Cup.
There will be changes ahead of the third Test against England at Newlands. What remains to be seen is how many new individuals and combinations will take the field.
Erasmus has been anything but conservative with his selections over the course of his first three Tests at the helm. Seven uncapped players were named in the starting XV, and a further six on the bench, for the season-opener against Wales in Washington DC. Erasmus handed three more players Test debuts in the first Test against England in Johannesburg.
There’s bound to be a lot of debate around the midfield selections this week. Frans Steyn was ruled out of the squad for the England series at the 11th hour, an omission that allowed Damian de Allende to start at No 12. Erasmus, however, has stated on more than one occasion that he sees a lot of potential in a 10-12-13 combination that features Handré Pollard, André Esterhuizen and Jesse Kriel.
Will we see Esterhuizen coming in for De Allende this week? And will Kriel start at No 13? It wouldn’t hurt to pair Esterhuizen with Lukhanyo Am, as those players start regularly for the Sharks.
It would make sense for Erasmus to back Faf de Klerk and Pollard at No 9 and 10, given that the halfbacks had never played together prior to this series. The Boks don’t have a lot of depth at scrumhalf, though, and Ivan van Zyl has only one Test cap to his name. At some point, Elton Jantjies and Rob du Preez will also need to get an extended run at flyhalf.
The Boks were breached in the wider channels in both of the recent Tests against England. That said, wingers Aphiwe Dyantyi and S’bu Nkosi made some important individual contributions on defence. Their attacking play was encouraging.
Surely another opportunity for that back-three to gel would benefit the Boks in the long run? Erasmus may be tempted to give Warrick Gelant a starting opportunity at fullback, though. As is the case with scrumhalf, the Boks aren’t spoiled for a host of experienced options at No 15 at present.
It will be interesting to see how Erasmus goes about selecting his starting pack and indeed his reserve forwards for the third Test. Bongi Mbonambi has done a wonderful job in the injury-enforced absence of Malcolm Marx, and deserves another opportunity. Schalk Brits put off a holiday in Ibiza to link up with the squad in Bloemfontein last week, and could find himself on the bench when the Boks play at his old home ground of Newlands this Saturday.
There’s a lot of competition at tighthead prop, but does Erasmus want to elevate Thomas du Toit to the starting XV after two incredible performances from the bench in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein? Wilco Louw started in the first two Tests of the season, and Frans Malherbe in the third. Perhaps the latter will receive another opportunity at No 3.
There’s little need for experimentation in the second row at this point. Eben Etzebeth will be back for the Rugby Championship and Lood de Jager at a later stage. Like Mbonambi, RG Snyman and Franco Mostert are only going to benefit from an extending starting run.
It would be a brave call to break up that back-row combination of Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen after such a fiery performance at Free State Stadium. The latter is unlikely to be available for the full duration of the Rugby Championship, and it wouldn’t make any sense to rest him now. Warren Whiteley is another who will be back for the Sanzaar tournament, and should stand in for Vermeulen at No 8.
At some point, Erasmus is going to have to develop a second- and third-choice option at openside flank. That may involve shifting the skipper to No 7 and altering the dynamic of the back row, though.
The series is done dusted as far as the result is concerned. There’s a lot to be gained in the third and final match, however, with Erasmus set to make further changes with the future in mind.
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