JON CARDINELLI identifies the frontrunners for World Cup selection as well as the factors that could influence Rassie Erasmus’ thinking.
We know that Erasmus will take three hookers and three scrumhalves to Japan. We know who will lead the Springboks at the World Cup, and we know who will provide the side with a strong option on the right wing.
In the buildup to the recent clash in Pretoria, Erasmus confirmed that Siya Kolisi will captain the Boks at the global tournament. In the wake of the 24-18 victory against Argentina, the Bok coach revealed that two-try hero Sbu Nkosi was another certainty for selection.
Erasmus also said that he would include the current group of hookers (Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi and Schalk Brits) and scrumhalves (Faf de Klerk, Herschel Jantjies and Cobus Reinach).
At the same time, Erasmus revealed which players were unlikely to make the cut.
Three months ago, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Damian Willemse and Warren Whiteley were on track for selection, with Dyantyi set for a starting role in the big games. All three players have struggled with injuries in recent weeks, however. According to Erasmus the trio is unlikely to be match-ready for the World Cup.
In short, Erasmus has confirmed eight of the 31 players who will travel to Japan – and three who won’t – a full week ahead of the official World Cup squad announcement on 26 August.
The recently concluded Rugby Championship – as well as the friendly against Argentina at Loftus – would have provided further answers, particularly with regards to the players based overseas.
The Boks coach knew what he had in Vincent Koch, Franco Mostert, Francois Louw, De Klerk, Cheslin Kolbe and Willie le Roux prior to the Rugby Championship, having utilised those players at various stages across the 2018 season. Erasmus has subsequently learned that Marcell Coetzee, Frans Steyn and Reinach can make significant contributions for the Boks at the coming World Cup.
He’s received crucial answers regarding the No 9 and 12 positions. He’s developed a strong leadership core, with Duane Vermeulen, Handré Pollard, Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Malcolm Marx and Beast Mtawarira all set to feature prominently alongside Kolisi – and several of those aforementioned overseas stars – in the coming months.
One of the final challenges facing Erasmus and the selectors is the balance of the 31-man squad. The news about Dyantyi and Willemse leaves us with a clearer picture of Erasmus’ preferred back-three options, and the Bok coach will be counting on versatile players like Steyn and Kolbe to cover several positions in Japan.
|JON CARDINELLI’S 31-MAN RWC SQUAD|
|OUTSIDE BACKS||Cheslin Kolbe, Willie le Roux, Makazole Mapimpi, Sbu Nkosi|
|MIDFIELDERS||Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Jesse Kriel, Frans Steyn|
|FLYHALVES||Elton Jantjies, Handré Pollard|
|SCRUMHALVES||Faf de Klerk, Herschel Jantjies, Cobus Reinach|
|LOOSE FORWARDS||Marcell Coetzee, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (c), Francois Louw, Kwagga Smith, Duane Vermeulen|
|LOCKS||Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert, RG Snyman|
|HOOKERS||Schalk Brits, Bongi Mbonambi, Malcolm Marx|
|PROPS||Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Frans Malherbe, Beast Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane|
Perhaps Erasmus will get away with selecting 13 backs in his 31-man group. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him selecting as many as 18 forwards for the grueling campaign in Japan.
One would expect a standard match 23 to comprise four loose forwards and three locks. Erasmus has to ensure that he has adequate cover for the second and back rows in the event of injuries, though. Allowances also need to be made for games in which two loose forwards – and six forwards in total – are included on the bench.
It may be tempting to select Pieter-Steph du Toit as a utility forward and to pick one more player in another department. I don’t think this is the right decision, though, as it may limit Du Toit’s potency and that of South Africa’s first-choice back row.
World Cups tournaments tend to take a toll on tight forwards. I would be surprised if one or two locks in the squad don’t succumb to some form of injury over the course of the seven-week competition.
Surely it’s better to have another lock in reserve for those situations than to move Du Toit to No 5 and to alter both the second- and back-row dynamics?
In terms of personnel, Erasmus has one more big call to make. Kolisi, Du Toit, Vermeulen and Louw have done enough to earn their squad places, and the Bok coach may feel that Kwagga Smith can cover No 6 and 8.
If it’s a choice between Smith and Coetzee, however, or even a choice between Coetzee and Rynhardt Elstadt, who will Erasmus favour for the mission to Japan?
Erasmus has been a fan of Elstadt since the lock-cum-flanker was with the Stormers. A lot’s been made of Elstadt’s role at the rucks and his reputation as enforcer.
That said, Coetzee has made an impact despite a limited amount of game time. The Ulster flanker contributed with some powerful carries in the latter stages of the Rugby Championship opener. He was influential at the breakdowns and collisions during the early stages of the match against Argentina this past Saturday.
Coezee was on the field for 15 minutes before he sustained a blow to the head and subsequently failed an HIA. If Coetzee had avoided that injury and remained on the park, he may have continued to impress. In the wake of a more substantial performance by Coetzee, Erasmus’ choice may have been slightly easier.
I’d still like to see Coetzee travelling with the Boks to Japan. He covers all three back-row positions and would be an asset in the event of injuries.
It remains to be seen, however, whether Erasmus will favour Coetzee over Elstadt – or indeed six loose forwards rather than five – in the group of 31.
Photos: Lee Warren/Gallo Images