The Bok coach faces a different sort of selection headache as the World Cup looms.
At the start of the season, there were a few unanswered questions – particularly at scrumhalf and in the midfield. Now, after some impressive individual and collective performances in the Rugby Championship, Rassie is spoiled for choice.
As I wrote in my previous column, this tournament was always going to be important in terms of preparing for the World Cup and getting some answers about certain players and combinations. I felt Rassie made a shrewd decision to back a team comprising some fringe players and overseas stars for the opening game against Australia in Johannesburg and to send a group of first-team regulars to New Zealand before the clash against the All Blacks in Wellington. The objective of that approach was to win matches and to develop depth before the all-important World Cup.
It was fantastic to see what some people described as a ‘B’ side doing so well at Ellis Park. That bonus-point win ensured the Boks began the 2019 season on a positive note. More importantly, it showed that the team has some outstanding options across the board and the squad that travels to the World Cup will not want for quality in depth.
A few months ago, there didn’t appear to be a clear and obvious alternative to Faf de Klerk. However, after the encouraging performances by Herschel Jantjies and Cobus Reinach in the Rugby Championship, there is no doubt regarding who should join De Klerk at the World Cup.
Frans Steyn brought some calm and experience to the midfield, while Damian de Allende also made an impact. Suddenly the question regarding the midfield is not who to take, but who to leave out. There are more options with regard to our centre combinations than there were before. The same applies to the selection of the loose-forward group. Francois Louw played out of his skin against Australia and New Zealand.
Many people tend to dismiss Rugby Championship results in a World Cup year. I feel the Boks would have gained a lot from the win against the Wallabies and the draw in New Zealand.
As many as 17 of the 23 players who featured in the monumental win in New Zealand last year returned to tackle the All Blacks at the Cake Tin this past July. The Boks finished strongly in both matches to secure a positive result, and that will fill them with confidence.
The Boks were under pressure for much of the second half, and yet the players who had been in a similar position a year before never stopped believing. I’m sure that made it easier for younger players like Herschel Jantjies – who scored the crucial try in the final minute – to step up. The squad as a whole will believe they can beat the All Blacks at the World Cup and a guy like Jantjies will just treat that big clash like any another game.
Rassie should be commended for the way he has gone about preparing the side for the World Cup. There is a good balance between youth and experience in the squad, and there is also a lot of competition for the places. Each and every player knows that if he doesn’t do his part he may fall down the pecking order. It’s great to see the Boks in such a positive space.
*De Villiers is a former Bok captain and World Cup winner, who earned 109 Test caps. He now serves as the Head of Philanthropy at Citadel:
Photo: EPA/Jan Touzeau