The latest additions to the Springbok training squad have made for a strong mix of backline players, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Who’s been left out? That tends to be the reaction when squads are announced ahead of major tournaments like the Rugby Championship and World Cup.
Last Friday, it appeared as if Rassie Erasmus had left two big names off the 39-man list. The omission of Curwin Bosch and Marco van Staden – who both played for the Boks in 2018 – suggests that the utility back and openside flank are not in the World Cup picture. At least not yet.
It’s hard to find fault with the group that Erasmus has put together. It’s clear that the Bok coach has tried to strike a balance between experience and youth, and that form in the Vodacom Super Rugby tournament and European competitions has influenced some of his selections.
If the Boks have some luck with injury from now until the end of the World Cup, then this group will do. If Damian Willemse recovers from his knee injury, the Boks should have a fine alternative to Willie le Roux – that is a versatile fullback who can also slot in at first-receiver in open play.
One would have thought that Bosch, who has played fullback and flyhalf this season, may have provided a useful third option. The Sharks player has the best kicking game of the three players, but perhaps Erasmus and company are still worried about his defence.
Warrick Gelant has made the cut. A gifted attacking player, Gelant has taken giant strides with regard to his kicking game in 2019.
Dillyn Leyds has also been preferred to Bosch. The ability to slot in at fullback and wing, and pop up at 10 after two or three phases, clearly counts in his favour.
The addition of Frans Steyn to the squad has provided the group with more options. In a crisis, Erasmus could ask the centre to slot in at fullback or flyhalf. Handré Pollard and Elton Jantjies should travel to Japan as the first- and second-choice 10s, while Willemse – fitness permitting – should be the third option.
The makeup of the back three for the World Cup will be interesting. While Aphiwe Dyantyi has been quiet this season, his match-winning ability cannot be ignored. Makazole Mapimpi is a special attacking player, and Sbu Nkosi’s defence and aerial expertise will be needed in the tighter games.
The inclusion of a fourth winger in a group of 31 seems excessive. That said, how do you omit Cheslin Kolbe, who’s been one of the form players in Europe and played a key role in Toulouse’s Top 14 success?
Kolbe made an impact on the wing for the Boks last year, and could provide yet another option at fullback. This may be why Erasmus has left Bosch out of the group, as Steyn and Kolbe can step into the position if required.
Erasmus’ mention of Jan Serfontein was interesting. Serfontein was the starting No 13 for much of the 2014 Test season, and was the first-choice No 12 in 2017. Injury and illness, not to mention a move to Montpellier, have prevented him from featuring for the Boks in subsequent years.
It would appear that Serfontein is back on the radar. How Erasmus manages his midfielders in the buildup to the World Cup will be important. And if he does take four wingers to the tournament itself, he may opt to pick a smaller group of centres.
Erasmus has included three scrumhalves in his current group of 39. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to see the overseas duo of Faf de Klerk and Cobus Reinach included. The uncapped Herschel Jantjies deserves his place in the group after an impressive performance in the Super Rugby tournament.
However, the latter selection does raise a few questions about two other players. Ivan van Zyl and Embrose Papier were brought into the Bok system last year and groomed as if they – or at least one of them – were going to the 2019 World Cup.
Why have they been discarded?
Neither has set the world alight in the Super Rugby tournament. A closer look, however, reveals that Van Zyl and Papier were rotated throughout the season, along with André Warner. The latter was preferred to start in the quarter-final against the Hurricanes.
These selections made little sense in the context of grooming players with the Rugby Championship and World Cup in mind. It will be interesting to see which scrumhalf gets the call-up if one of De Klerk, Reinach and Janjties breaks down with the injury over the next two months.
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP TRAINING SQUAD
|BACK THREE||Aphiwe Dyantyi, (Lions), Warrick Gelant (Bulls), Makazole Mapimpi (Sharks), Sbu Nkosi (Sharks), Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse), Willie le Roux (Toyota Verblitz), Dillyn Leyds (Stormers)|
|MIDFIELD||Lukhanyo Am (Sharks), Damian de Allende (Stormers), André Esterhuizen (Sharks), Jesse Kriel (Bulls), Frans Steyn (Montpellier)|
|FLYHALVES||Elton Jantjies (Lions), Handré Pollard (Bulls)|
|SCRUMHALVES||Faf de Klerk (Sale Sharks), Herschel Jantjies (Stormers), Cobus Reinach (Northampton Saints)|
|LOOSE FORWARDS||Marcell Coetzee (Ulster), Pieter-Steph du Toit (Stormers), Rynhardt Elstadt (Toulouse), Siya Kolisi (Stormers), Francois Louw (Bath), Kwagga Smith (Lions), Duane Vermeulen (Bulls)|
|LOCKS||Lood de Jager (Bulls), Eben Etzebeth (Stormers), Franco Mostert (Gloucester), Marvin Orie (Lions), RG Snyman (Bulls)|
|PROPS||Thomas du Toit (Sharks), Lizo Gqoboka (Bulls), Steven Kitshoff (Stormers), Vincent Koch (Saracens), Frans Malherbe, (Stormers), Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks), Trevor Nyakane (Bulls)|
|HOOKERS||Schalk Brits (Bulls), Malcolm Marx (Lions), Bongi Mbonambi (Stormers)|
|INJURED BUT ON RADAR||Ruan Botha (Sharks, foot surgery), Dan du Preez (Sharks, rib fracture), Warren Whiteley (Lions, knee surgery), Damian Willemse (Stormers, knee surgery), Jan Serfontein (Montpellier, ankle surgery)|
Photo: Mike Egerton/Getty Images