While several first-choice players deserve a break others may benefit from a run against Argentina in the final friendly before the team departs for the World Cup, writes JON CARDINELLI.
At this stage, the Springboks are well placed with regard to injuries and player fitness. Captain Siya Kolisi made his comeback via the Currie Cup last Friday, while it’s hoped that star wing Aphiwe Dyantyi will also be ready for the World Cup next month.
No 8 Warren Whiteley looks set to miss the tournament in Japan, while utility back Damian Willemse may not return to the pitch until late August. Fortunately for the Boks, they have sufficient loose forwards in reserve, and several existing back-three and flyhalf options at their disposal.
How will Erasmus manage his squad ahead of the group’s departure for Japan? The coming game against Argentina in Pretoria may present the Bok coach with a final opportunity to assess individuals and combinations.
On the other hand, the fixture could also see a player or two breaking down and missing the World Cup altogether.
The management of Kolisi will be interesting. The Bok captain needs game time, and yet the coaching staff may be reluctant to push him too far too soon. It wouldn’t surprise to see Kolisi playing a limited role against Argentina.
The Boks will have something to gain from fielding Kolisi this Saturday. With regard to Duane Vermeulen, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Beast Mtawarira, the risk of fielding these senior players in a friendly against Argentina is far greater than the reward.
The coming game will present Erasmus with a chance to revisit the Herschel Jantjies-Elton Jantjies halfback partnership, or to give Cobus Reinach a start. The latter hasn’t played much since rejoining the squad ahead of the Rugby Championship.
Marcell Coetzee is another who hasn’t featured since the clash with Australia. Erasmus will get a few more answers if he starts Coetzee against Argentina at Loftus Versfeld.
Sbu Nkosi and Lood de Jager are two more who have been watching from the sidelines for the past few weeks. Both will be keen to make an impression and give Erasmus reason to revise his back-three and second-row pecking order.
The Bok coach faces some other big calls in the back division. Willie le Roux will benefit from another run at Loftus after a lukewarm showing in the Rugby Championship. That said, with Willemse on the outer, Erasmus may want another look at Warrick Gelant, or might even consider backing Cheslin Kolbe and Frans Steyn at No 15, given that the latter two may end up covering fullback at the World Cup.
There’s a lot to be gained in backing Steyn at No 12 this week, though. Damian de Allende has done enough to earn a World Cup place, and all that remains to be seen is whether he or Steyn starts at inside centre in the big matches staged in Japan. It may be wise, though, to give Steyn at least one starting chance before the team arrives in the Far East.
Erasmus also needs to keep in mind that more than 31 players may be used across the World Cup tournament. Indeed, we’ve seen past Bok teams calling for reinforcements in the event of serious injuries – Jan Sertontein flew in to replace Jean de Villiers in 2015. Those who don’t make the initial squad may yet have a role to play.
We haven’t seen much of Vincent Koch across the Rugby Championship, even though the Saracens star seems likely to travel to Japan with the group of 31. Koch could certainly use a run against Argentina this coming Saturday.
While Thomas du Toit looks set to miss out on squad selection, it may benefit the team in the long run if he fronts the Pumas. This will also afford other tightheads in the squad with an opportunity to rest.
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