By next week we should have a clear picture of who the front runners are for Rassie Erasmus’ World Cup squad, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
Next week, the Bok boss will pick two squads for the first two rounds of the shortened Rugby Championship. The Boks tackle Australia in their first match on 20 July, before taking on the All Blacks.
Erasmus will announce a squad that will play the Wallabies at Ellis Park, but also a 15-man team who will travel to New Zealand late to prepare for their clash in Wellington. The Springboks’ coaches and eight reserves will then fly out after the Wallabies clash on Sunday evening.
Erasmus mentioned that he doesn’t consider the squads to be an ‘A or a B side’, but it’s more than likely that Erasmus’ first-choice players at this stage of his World Cup preparations will be flying southeast, while their teammates are preparing for the Australians.
It’s bold move to play the Wallabies in the only home Rugby Championship match with a team that will likely be made up of ‘fringe’ players and many experienced overseas-based players who have come back into the Bok reckoning.
But the move is a very good one.
Erasmus is essentially forcing himself to give everybody a run during the Rugby Championship to see who is on form, fit and ready to be selected in the Springboks’ for the World Cup. If you play your best team in all the matches, injuries and fatigue come into equation, which will also leave the fringe players horribly underdone going into the showpiece tournament.
Yes, results in the Rugby Championship matter, but nobody is going to remember what happened at Ellis Park on 20 July if the Springboks lift the William Webb Ellis trophy later this year. But it’s obviously still possible that they will do both.
In 2015 the Springboks were caught with their pants down in their opening match against Japan. Coach Heyneke Meyer went into that World Cup with a host of players returning from injury, and the Boks thought they could ease their way into the tournament against the likes of Japan, but ended up with egg on their face.
Erasmus is boxing clever. By sending a strong Springboks team to New Zealand he is essentially trying to get back-to-back wins in New Zealand, which will give the Boks a massive psychological boost ahead of their opening match against the selfsame defending champions in Yokohama.
That match is going to be for a lot more marbles than just finishing top of their group. The loser is likely to get Ireland in the quarter-finals, which is going to be the toughest match in the first round of the knockout stage.
Erasmus is preparing to hit the ground running in Yokohama, and by picking two squads he is essentially giving his team the best preparation to do so.
The cream of the crop will more than likely travel to Wellington. They will likely form the nucleus of the Boks’ effort at the World Cup in Japan.
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images