André Esterhuizen and Lukhanyo Am are set to start their first Test as a midfield combination when the Springboks host Argentina this Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS reports from Durban.
In the Boks’ first two Tests against England this past June, Damian de Allende started alongside Am in the midfield, while Esterhuizen and Jesse Kriel formed a new centre combination in the third and final clash at a rain-drenched Newlands.
However, De Allende is now set to miss the Boks’ first two Rugby Championship Tests against Argentina due to an injury, with Esterhuizen the only specialist inside centre currently in the squad.
Despite facing fierce competition from Kriel, it does appear that Am remains the preferred candidate to start his third Test in the No 13 jersey.
At the Boks’ training session in cool Durban conditions on Monday, the players ran through a number of game simulations, with several different combinations running interchangeably.
As expected, though, Esterhuizen and Am ran consistently alongside each other, with Kriel or Lionel Mapoe looking set to provide centre cover off the bench.
Aphiwe Dyantyi was one player who missed Monday’s training due to flu, but he is expected to be cleared to start on the wing, with Makazole Mapimpi likely to be the front-runner for the other berth out wide after impressing in the one-off Test against Wales in June.
When looking ahead to Saturday’s tournament-opener against Argentina, Erasmus suggested that it was a logical choice to see how Esterhuizen and Am combined in the midfield.
‘André is fit and this [Kings Park] is his home ground, and so it would make sense to select him rather than mixing and matching… It’s quite obvious that I’m keen to select those two guys [Esterhuizen and Am] together, and not just because they’ve played together at the Sharks, because that’s just a bonus.
‘It will help, of course, to have a familiar face next to you, though, and that makes a lot of sense, especially for guys that are still relatively new to the Test stage.’
Erasmus said there was also no real temptation to consider shifting Handré Pollard to inside centre, with the 24-year-old set to reclaim the No 10 jersey worn by Elton Jantjies in the third and final Test against England.
‘It is an option [to play Pollard at 12 down the line], but I don’t think at this stage it’s something we’re likely to do. Handré is settling nicely at flyhalf, and then Elton has also played the most Super Rugby minutes of any South African player this season, so we need to manage him carefully.’
It also means that Jantjies could miss out on selection altogether if Erasmus is willing to back probable debutant Damian Willemse to cover both flyhalf and fullback from the bench.
‘The moment you’ve played at fullback and experienced how the opposition flyhalf will look to manipulate proceedings and try to catch you out, then it makes the move to 10 a lot easier after learning from that,’ Erasmus commented when discussing Willemse’s likely introduction to Test rugby.
The Bok coach is set to name his team on Thursday at 1pm.
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