Who said that this Rugby Championship will be boring?
The Bok coach plans to send a group of players to New Zealand more than a week before the Test against the All Blacks in Wellington. The team that fronts the Wallabies at Ellis Park may feature an interesting mix of overseas-based stars, fringe players as well as a few big names returning from injuries.
It’s clear that Erasmus will be using the coming Tests to prepare for the World Cup in Japan. While he needs to experiment and give several fringe players and combinations a chance before the global tournament, he also has to secure a big result or two.
A win against the All Blacks would do wonders for the team’s confidence ahead of the World Cup clash in Yokohama on 21 September. A victory against the Wallabies on the highveld is also within the Boks’ reach.
It will be interesting to see who Erasmus backs to lead the Boks against Australia. Last week, the Bok coach spoke about his options in the Rugby Championship now that Siya Kolisi has been sidelined with a knee injury. He mentioned that Eben Etzebeth is a strong candidate, given that the lock has led the Boks in the past.
Etzebeth and Lood de Jager have battled with injuries this season and Erasmus may want to utilise the two locks as soon as they are available. The mention of Etzebeth as a captaincy option suggests that the alternatives – Duane Vermeulen and Handré Pollard – may be among the group deployed to New Zealand.
Erasmus may give several players returning from long injury layoffs an opportunity to shine against Australia. Jesse Kriel and Beast Mtawarira should be part of the Bok 23 at the World Cup later this year, but haven’t had a lot of game time of late. Warrick Gelant battled with injuries last year and deserves another look at fullback.
The use of the overseas-based players will be key. Frans Steyn, Cheslin Kolbe, Cobus Reinach, Marcell Coetzee and Vincent Koch all deserve a start sooner rather than later. And it wouldn’t surprise to see Francois Louw and Franco Mostert – regulars in the squad over the past few years – getting a run with the first-choice side in New Zealand.
Erasmus also has some exciting rookies at his disposal. Scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies could win his first cap in the coming weeks, as could prop Lizo Gqoboka and utility forward Rynhardt Elstadt.
A lot could change before the first Test against Australia, though. Several players have yet to prove their fitness, and another setback or two could force a rethink in terms of the makeup of the first- and second-string lineups.
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