Rassie Erasmus’ decision to back the best available combination from the outset will improve the team’s chances of adapting to conditions and beginning their Japanese sojourn on a high, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Duane Vermeulen didn’t mince his words when I asked him about the Japanese conditions at the World Cup squad announcement in Johannesburg last week. The Bok No 8 played for the Kubota Spears in the Top League last year, and has had an opportunity to experience the heat and humidity first-hand.
‘It’s even worse than Durban’s humidity,’ Vermeulen said. ‘Hopefully we can get used to that in the warm-up game against Japan.
‘It’s going to be a difficult game. We have to come to terms with the conditions, though, because you don’t want to go into a World Cup campaign on the back of a loss.’
A week has passed since the announcement. The Boks have travelled to Japan, and coach Rassie Erasmus has made good on his promise to field his best available team for the Test against the Brave Blossoms in Saitama.
Like Vermeulen, Erasmus has mentioned the conditions as well as the Boks’ desire to adapt as quickly as possible. Erasmus also said the team that played against Japan would in all likelihood face the All Blacks in the World Cup pool match on 21 September.
With all that in mind, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to note the similarities between the team picked on Tuesday with the side that last faced the All Blacks in Wellington. In fact, the 23 – from the starting XV to the makeup of the bench – is exactly the same with one exception.
Siya Kolisi will resume his role on the openside flank and as the team captain this Friday. Kolisi made his comeback to Test rugby in the friendly against Argentina in Pretoria, but this fixture will mark his first opportunity to play alongside the other first-choice forwards in 2019.
Most significantly, Kolisi will be reunited with Pieter-Steph du Toit and Vermeulen. That back-row combination has provided the Boks with the right balance in recent seasons. It’s important that it receives a chance to settle before the World Cup tournament commences in two weeks’ time.
The Boks will have a lot to gain from the coming match. The game will present an opportunity to adjust to the heat and humidity of the country. It will also give the side a chance to build some momentum before the tournament proper.
Not that the Boks will be taking Japan lightly. They haven’t lost a game in 2019, and the last thing they will want at this point is a loss or even a lacklustre performance.
The selections suggest that the team will be going all out for the win in Saitama as well as preparing for the bigger game to come in Yokohama on 21 September. Erasmus may also receive one or two more answers before the World Cup starts.
This 23-man side is likely to face the All Blacks. Will this starting XV remain intact, though, or will we see a few changes?
Will tighthead prop Frans Malherbe make way for Trevor Nyakane in Yokohama? Will Erasmus opt for other back options in Frans Steyn and S’bu Nkosi in that starting lineup?
The performances of the individuals as well as the collective in Saitama may force a minor rethink to the starting XV.
The upshot is that the players won’t be short on motivation this Friday. This will increase the chances of the team realising its pre-tournament objectives.
Photo: Gordon Arons/Gallo Images