The makeup of the loose-forward contingent suggests that the Springboks won’t be limited to one approach, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Siya Kolisi looks set to miss at least two Rugby Championship Tests. As a result, Erasmus will need to consider at least one captaincy alternative in the coming weeks. The Bok coach will also need to explore other options at openside flank and rethink the balance of his back row.
It’s worth noting that Erasmus may not have enjoyed such an opportunity if all of his preferred loose-forward options were fit. Along with Kolisi, Dan and Jean-Luc du Preez, Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Warren Whiteley will all be sidelined for lengthy periods. Like it or not, the Boks will have to experiment over the course of the Rugby Championship.
Marco van Staden was a late call-up to the Bok squad. The Vodacom Bulls flanker appears to be the only out-and-out fetcher in the current loose-forward group.
Francois Louw was once considered a specialist No 6, but has since evolved his game to offer options at No 7 and 8. Marcell Coetzee is another who can play all three positions.
Kwagga Smith offers a more athletic option at No 6, and would certainly boost the Boks in a more open game.
Rynhardt Elstadt – who was often used at openside during his days at the Stormers and has been starting in this position for French club Toulouse – is a very different player, offering his side an excellent physical option at the rucks and collisions as well as some extra height and power at the set piece.
How will these pieces fit into the Rugby Championship puzzle? As Erasmus has stated on more than one occasion, the ability to steal and slow ball is not necessarily the primary role of an opensider in the modern game. And when a Bok pack includes other breakdown bandits like Malcolm Marx and Duane Vermeulen, there is room to include back-row players with other strengths.
Injuries to Whiteley, Notshe and Dan du Preez have robbed Erasmus of the obvious alternatives to Vermeulen at No 8. Erasmus may need to use Louw or Coetzee in this position against the Wallabies in Johannesburg next week, with Vermeulen expected to travel to New Zealand a few days earlier with a core of first-choice players.
What kind of back row can we expect to start in the tournament opener in Johannesburg? The Boks need to win the rucks and collisions, but if there is any ground that’s conducive to a more high-tempo approach, it’s Ellis Park.
Will Smith get a run on his home ground, or will Erasmus rely on the power of Coetzee and Elstadt to lay the platform for the backs to fire?
These are selections that will echo through to the World Cup. As we saw last year, Erasmus and company have tried to include players that can contribute according to the situation.
One would hope that they keep working towards developing a loose-forward group that can switch between a pragmatic and high-tempo approach ahead of the tournament in Japan.