The away Test against Argentina is the ideal opportunity for Rassie Erasmus to test his squad depth with their challenging Australasian tour on the horizon, writes former Bok scrumhalf NEIL DE KOCK.
The resounding victory against Argentina in Durban last Saturday was another positive stride forward for Springbok rugby. The home side managed to score six tries and what really excites me is that we have some young superstars in the making, who are putting their stamp on certain positions.
Of concern was South Africa’s slow start in the first half, which seems to have become a trend. However, I’m not sure the Springboks require a mindset shift because they are creating opportunities on attack, which is pleasing to see, and it’s just about converting them. What you will find is that the longer this team plays together, the more they will grow in confidence. They have already developed massively within a short space of time. Winning breeds confidence and, as long as they are on the right end of the scoreboard, the momentum will continue. Going forward in the Championship, I expect them to sort the full picture in terms of a complete 80-minute performance.
Erasmus has hinted at making a handful of personnel changes for the reverse fixture in Mendoza on Saturday. Some people will say the Springboks need to retain continuity and keep combinations together. However, another school of thought is taking some players out of their comfort zones and seeing what they can produce.
Argentina are a different prospect when they play in front of their partisan crowd and tend to prove stickier on home turf. I believe the away Test serves as a fitting opportunity to test South Africa’s depth ahead of clashes with Australia and New Zealand in the coming weeks. By all accounts, Rassie wants to blood some new combinations and see how players respond at the top level.
If ever there was an opportunity to experiment, now is the time because the World Cup is only 13 months away. You don’t want to be sitting in eight months’ time still wondering what a player can offer you, having not given him a proper opportunity to show his worth. I would encourage the Springboks to test different players, which doesn’t run the risk of watering down the Test team. I believe all the players in the Springbok squad are capable of playing at the top level, and to suggest otherwise would be extremely disrespectful to them as professionals.
There is a suggestion that Elton Jantjies could start at flyhalf for the Springboks on Saturday. If that’s the case, I take my hat off to Rassie because he is showing faith in a player, who has copped plenty of criticism. The Bok No 10 jersey has always been a bone of contention for scribes and supporters alike and is the hot seat of South African rugby. It’s difficult to say why Elton hasn’t fired at Test level like he has done for the Lions in Super Rugby. It could be a bad run of form or opposition teams targeting him. The bottom line is that Rassie sees enough in Elton. He regards him as a very good player capable of playing at Test level. It will be great if he gets another chance to prove his worth.
In terms of the Pumas, they are experiencing a constant uphill battle and their Rugby Championship record – three wins and a draw from 34 matches – says it all. I really hope for Argentina’s sake that they experience an upward curve in terms of the performances they put in against the top three southern hemisphere teams. If the Pumas are getting beaten all the time, it’s not good for the strength of the competition and maybe that is why Kings Park had a record-low crowd attendance.
Following Mario Ledesma’s post-match assertion that the Springboks are the ‘most physical team in the world by far’, the Pumas’ primary approach will be to combat the Boks physically and not be dominated in that department. While it’s easier said than done, Argentina will aim to target South Africa’s set-piece play and draw on an intangible – home-crowd support – to snap their losing streak.