Lood de Jager says there will be a lot more at stake this season when the South African World Cup hopefuls face off in Vodacom Super Rugby. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Rassie Erasmus experimented a great deal over the course of his first year at the helm of the Springboks. At this point – less than eight months from the team’s first World Cup fixture in Japan – the coach should have a good idea about the makeup of his preferred 31-man squad.
Form, however, will factor into selection. How the players fare in the Super Rugby tournament and in the truncated Rugby Championship could influence the pecking order in certain positions.
The players themselves are well aware how things can change, even at this relatively late stage.
‘We’re all starting at zero,’ De Jager told SARugbymag.co.za.
The Bok lock missed all but two Tests in 2018 due to a serious pectoral injury. While he is believed to be the favourite to wear the No 5 jersey at the World Cup, De Jager will have plenty to prove in the coming Super Rugby tournament.
‘Reputations count for little in this context. How many times have we seen a young guy forcing his way into the national setup and playing a big role at the World Cup? You just can’t take anything for granted.
‘The derbies in South Africa are typically bloody affairs. I expect that they will be more brutal than usual in the lead-up to the World Cup. It will be like World Cup trials this season. I’m looking forward to it.’
All four franchises will be in action on 3 February at a pre-season event that’s been dubbed ‘Superhero Sunday’. The Vodacom Bulls, with De Jager leading the charge, will host the Stormers on 16 February in the first round of the competition proper.
The Boks aren’t short on quality locks at present. De Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert, Pieter-Steph du Toit – who has also featured at flank – and RG Snyman have all received opportunities to start in the second row over the past three seasons. Jason Jenkins and Marvin Orie made their Test debuts last year, while JD Schickerling toured Europe with the Boks in November.
Erasmus is unlikely to take more than four of those players to the World Cup. A player such as Du Toit may be asked to cover lock and flank. If all of these players remain fit, the Bok coach will have the right sort of selection headache.
‘Someone asked me the other day if I’m worried about the competition at lock,’ said De Jager. ‘I laughed and said that competition is only going to bring the best out of the players. That is what you want, a player holding nothing back in a World Cup year.
‘South Africa has the widest range of world-class locks in the game. RG had a great season and proved that he has what it takes to compete at the highest level. JD Schickerling is another fantastic athlete who could even act as an extra loose forward in future.
‘Franco Mostert never gives anything less than 130% and we all know what a class act Eben Etzebeth is. Pieter-Steph du Toit played a lot at No 7 last year, but can certainly do a good job at No 5.
‘It makes for an interesting competition in the lead-up to the World Cup. The competition is going to bring the best out of everyone involved, and make the Bok side that much stronger.’