Rassie Erasmus and Michael Cheika will be exposed to different pressures in the lead-up to another desperate clash between the Springboks and Wallabies, writes JON CARDINELLI in Port Elizabeth.
The Wallabies have arrived in the Friendly City. Israel Folau, Matt Toomua, and several other players were out and about in Summerstrand on Sunday afternoon, taking in the surroundings and no doubt observing a powerful wind that could influence the upcoming Test at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
It would surprise to hear coach Cheika and his players talking up an expansive strategy in the buildup to the match on Saturday. The Wallabies have come to South Africa to secure a result, and Cheika may have to change his tactics as well as his personnel for the team to realise this goal.
After losing a series to Ireland at home, the Wallabies copped two heavy beatings at the hands of the All Blacks. The win against the Boks in Brisbane was unconvincing – the contest was a poor advert for Australian as well as South African rugby – and the landmark loss to Argentina on the Gold Coast gave many cause to declare that the team is in crisis.
Two weeks ago, it was clear that South African rugby is in the same boat. Then the Boks went and beat the All Blacks in Wellington, becoming only the second side to win a Test in New Zealand over a nine-year period.
The Boks should still be buzzing this week as they prepare for a showdown with the Wallabies in Port Elizabeth. Erasmus and his lieutenants, however, would do well to remind the players that they have achieved nothing yet in terms of Rugby Championship silverware.
A victory will keep their slim hopes of winning the tournament alive, and ensure that they continue to build and improve ahead of the big clash against the All Blacks in Pretoria on 6 October. New Zealand will be keen to set the record straight, though, after losing in Wellington.
Two wins against the All Blacks in a single season, however, would really say something about the quality and potential of this Bok group. One has to remember that there isn’t a lot of experience in the current squad, and that many of the players – particularly in the backline – only made their Test debuts this year.
Does Erasmus manage his squad with that Test against the All Blacks in mind, or does he focus all his attention on the coming game against the Wallabies? He may not have too much choice in the matter. Results are needed on more than one front.
The Boks have managed to retain Faf de Klerk and Willie le Roux despite suggestions – by Erasmus himself – that the pair would head back to England for club duty towards the end of the Rugby Championship. The bad news is that they have lost both centres who started in Wellington – Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am – to serious injuries, and will have to rotate their midfield for the umpteenth time.
Erasmus will be under pressure this week to field a more transformed side. The Bok coach was widely praised after including six black Africans in the starting XV for the Tests against England in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein in June. When the last side was announced ahead of the Wellington clash, however, Erasmus was criticised for fielding only four players of colour in his run-on side.
SA Rugby has made it clear that the Bok team that travels to the 2019 World Cup must be 50% black and 50% white. This year, Erasmus has a mandate to field a side that is 45% black. The Bok coach will have the opportunity to reach this target over the course of the 14-Test season, though, as opposed to reaching it in every single game.
Given that only four players of colour started in Wellington, it follows that Erasmus will have to field a more transformed side in Port Elizabeth – and possibly even in Pretoria – if he is going to realise his 2018 transformation goal.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images