Rassie Erasmus has picked a good blend of youth and experience for the Tests against Australia and New Zealand, writes JON CARDINELLI in Johannesburg.
On Wednesday, Erasmus followed through with his plan to select an experimental side for the opening game of the Rugby Championship.
The 23 picked for the Test against the Wallabies features – as expected – three uncapped players, a clutch of overseas stars, as well as two or three big names returning from serious injuries.
Erasmus has already confirmed that a group of 15 players will travel to New Zealand ahead of the rest of the squad. The players who weren’t included in the 23 to face Australia in Johannesburg are likely to start against the All Blacks in Wellington next week.
At the team announcement on Wednesday, Erasmus reiterated that he has a few boxes to tick en route to the World Cup. The matches against Australia and Argentina will provide the Bok coach with a chance to experiment with a few untried individuals and combinations.
The game against the All Blacks, however, has been a targeted as one the Boks have to try to win. Victory at the Cake Tin should fill the side with confidence ahead of the subsequent meeting with the All Blacks at the World Cup.
The team picked to front the Wallabies boasts a lot of Test experience. Beast Mtawarira, Eben Etzebeth, Francois Louw and Frans Steyn all boast more than 50 caps. Lood de Jager and Jesse Kriel started regularly for the Boks at the 2015 World Cup.
André Esterhuizen has been preferred to start against the Wallabies this week with Steyn providing cover on the bench. Steyn is set to win his first Test cap since representing the Boks in the 2017 series against France.
The way Erasmus explained the inclusion on Wednesday, Steyn will need to prove himself before he is considered for a starting spot and a place in the World Cup squad. Erasmus and the management have waxed lyrical about Steyn’s impact, and indeed that of the other overseas-based stars. Marcell Coetzee and Cobus Reinach will all have an opportunity to perform when they are deployed from the bench at Ellis Park.
Last year, Erasmus blooded 19 new players over the course of the Test season. He’s stayed true to his word to back form players and explore alternative options in the buildup to the 2019 Rugby Championship by backing three rookies – Herschel Jantjies, Rynhardt Elstadt and Lizo Gqoboka – for the opener.
All eyes will be on Jantjies and Elstadt, who have both been backed to start. Jantjies will partner Elton Jantjies in the halfbacks, and it will be interesting to see how a largely untried backline combination goes against an Aussie side renowned for its attack.
Rassie Erasmus on selecting the uncapped Herschel Jantjies at No 9 and recalling Cobus Reinach. pic.twitter.com/SQxuyZsMbN
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) July 17, 2019
The ‘A’ team will depart for New Zealand in the coming days. Duane Vermeulen is the obvious choice to lead that side against the All Blacks in the absence of Siya Kolisi.
Many of this team’s players were Erasmus’ preferred starters last season. The inclusion that will raise a few eyebrows is that of Kwagga Smith, who looks set to wear the No 6 jersey while Kolisi recovers from a knee injury in South Africa.
The need to give Etzebeth and De Jager game time has influenced their selection for the first game of the season. Don’t be surprised if these two start the big games at the World Cup later this year.
That said, RG Snyman and Franco Mostert deserve an opportunity in the A side on form. Snyman lent the Vodacom Bulls another attacking dimension during the Super Rugby season with his offloading game and running into space.
It promises to be an exciting fortnight in the sense that Erasmus will get some answers to one or two nagging selection questions. Splitting the squads at this stage will benefit the Boks in the lead-up to the World Cup.
Photo: Kim Ludbrook/EPA/BackpagePix