Rassie Erasmus should pick a Springbok team that is capable of slowing and stifling the revitalised All Blacks, writes JON CARDINELLI in Pretoria.
‘We were lucky,’ said Erasmus immediately after the Boks’ 36-34 win against the All Blacks in Wellington nearly three weeks ago. The result marked South Africa’s first win in New Zealand in nearly a decade.
One would have forgiven the Bok coach for suspending all forms of analysis for a period of 24 hours. Instead, Erasmus, called for perspective and more or less installed the All Blacks as favourites for the next clash at Loftus Versfeld.
Erasmus was asked about the Test in Pretoria at the press conference that followed the Boks’ 23-12 win over the Wallabies last Saturday. He confirmed that his view of the game in Wellington hadn’t changed.
The Boks, said Erasmus, would need to improve a great deal if they were going to secure another win against the All Blacks.
It’s good to see that the Boks aren’t kidding themselves about the challenge that lies in wait. There’s been an edge about the All Blacks in their dealings with the media over the past few days. They’re keen to beat the Boks this Saturday, and to beat them well.
‘We’re not worrying about the opposition, we’re focusing on ourselves,’ is possibly the biggest cliché in Test rugby. For once, let’s hope the Boks mean what they say.
Let’s hope that they back their own brand of rugby this week. Let’s hope that the confidence gained after two straight wins doesn’t fuel the belief that they can suddenly match the All Blacks in an 80-minute sprint.
Would Francois Louw have been recalled to the squad if Warren Whiteley hadn’t succumbed to a groin injury? It’s an interesting one. Erasmus has made it clear in the past that Whiteley is suited to a more open contest, while Louw is the man – be it at flank or at No 8, if the situation demands it – for a breakdown scrap.
Going by how the side has lined up in training this week, Louw is the favourite to start at No 8 against the All Blacks. Sikhumbuzo Notshe is likely to be used as an impact player in the latter stages.
Perhaps this is a sign that the Boks will focus their energies on the tackle contest and continue to employ their defence as a means to attack.
Erasmus has called for an improved kicking performance in the wake of some underwhelming tactical displays in Wellington and Port Elizabeth. The Bok defensive effort in New Zealand was nothing short of heroic, but the South Africans would not have spent so much time in their own 22 if their primary kickers – Faf de Klerk and Handré Pollard – had managed the game more accurately.
The All Blacks will back themselves in a high-tempo contest. That said, after the loss in Wellington – one that still rankles, according to the New Zealand players – we should expect to see a more balanced tactical approach.
If New Zealand can’t go through or around the Bok defence, they will look to go over it. They will test the Boks in the wider channels, and it won’t surprise anyone to see Beauden Barrett and company putting the ball into the air and sending Rieko Ioane, Waisake Naholo and the peerless Ben Smith in for the chase.
Erasmus has a big call to make in the back three in this regard. Cheslin Kolbe must be commended for his industrious defensive performance against the All Blacks two weeks ago, as well as a piece of opportunism that made a difference when one considers the final score. In a game of inches, however, it may be more prudent to start with a player who can dominate the collisions in those wider channels and win the contest for the high ball.
S’bu Nkosi has trained with the Boks for the past two weeks, and appears to be over the injury that sidelined him for the first five Tests of the Rugby Championship. Just as Louw may be a better option than Notshe at No 8 in this particular contest, Nkosi may offer more than Kolbe.
Erasmus may favour Kolbe for the sake of continuity in that back-three combination. It will also be interesting to see how this selection influences the make-up of the bench.
If Damian Willemse features in the 23, the Boks will go into this clash with three flyhalf (Pollard, Elton Jantjies and Willemse) and three fullback options (Willie le Roux, Kolbe and Willemse).
Including Nkosi on the bench at the expense of Willemse, however, may ensure that the Boks have some power and high-ball expertise in reserve should Aphiwe Dyantyi break down.
Springboks (probable) – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Francois Louw, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Beast Mtawarira, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Damian Willemse.
Photo: Christiaan Kotze/Gallo Images