Johannesburg - Last week his team brought back some much needed spice to international rugby and this week Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus is following it up by adding interest to the Currie Cup.
Of course Erasmus has been eager for fringe players get as much game time in the Currie Cup as possible, and it has led to the provinces being able to draw on their non-contracted Boks whenever the national team is not in action, according to supersport.com website.
Jesse Kriel for instance warmed up for his starting role in the games on the Australasian tour by playing for the Bulls against the Sharks and Wilco Louw, Sikhumbuzo Notshe and even the centrally contracted Damian de Allende played in Western Province’s big win over the Pumas.
But this week Erasmus has stirred the pot further by not naming any of the eight players in action this weekend - two players, Marco van Staden and Embrose Papier, are playing a friendly match for the Blue Bulls in Namibia - in his squad that will gather in Port Elizabeth on Sunday.
He has limited the group for the home leg of the Championship to just 17 players at this point, meaning there are many places to fill.
Of course the reality is probably different, as Erasmus will already have his starting team for the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium clash in his head, but the message that has been sent out is that the players have to play for their places and that this weekend’s domestic games could conceivably decide his choices for the Wallaby clash.
That is good for the Currie Cup and good for South African rugby generally, and might just attract some extra bums on seats at Saturday night’s late game between WP and Griquas.
Province have four of the six current Bok squad members that will be playing in the competition this weekend, and arguably the most interesting aspect across the three games from a national viewpoint, which is Damian Willemse playing fullback.
The 20-year-old looks destined to play there for the Boks next Saturday, and this will be a chance to see how he adjusts back to a position he has played before and give him an opportunity to gain some confidence.
It was presumably because he didn’t want to risk Willemse losing confidence ahead of his first start in home conditions for the Boks that he didn’t include Willemse on the bench in the two overseas Tests.
Fullback, centre and openside flank are the areas that appear to be open for the home leg of the Championship.
Willie le Roux has returned to his English club, the two starting centres in the game against the All Blacks last week are both injured, while Francois Louw, on the bench in Wellington, is also back in England.
When it comes to the midfield it is a pity that Andre Esterhuizen is contracted in Japan at this time of the year as Saturday’s big Currie Cup match of the weekend between the Sharks and the Lions would have been the perfect time for him to warm up for a possible role at inside centre against the All Blacks and the Wallabies.
Not that it is a fait accompli that he will start in the injured De Allende’s place next week. The happy accident that brought Elton Jantjies and Handre Pollard together in the No 10/No 12 axis in the win over the All Blacks could have paved the way for Erasmus to try them together in Port Elizabeth. It is a selection that would make a lot of sense.
Lukhanyo Am’s injury has been coupled with the return to rugby of his Sharks team-mate Sbu Nkosi, who will be playing off the bench in Durban.
If Nkosi gets through and shows his readiness to play, he could find himself back in the Bok squad as soon as Sunday, as playing Jesse Kriel at No 13 in Am’s place and Nkosi on the wing would make sense. Makazole Mapimpi is still out injured.
The Kings Park game also provides a return opportunity for another Bok in Coenie Oosthuizen, who is now ready to go again after missing most of the season because of the ACL injury sustained on last November’s end of year tour.
It may be a bit soon for Oosthuizen to be returned to the Bok mix and it would make sense to wait for the November tour, but who knows, it could depend on how Erasmus views Oosthuizen’s team-mate Thomas du Toit.
The Sharks front-ranker was dropped for WP’s Wilco Louw after the defeat to Argentina in Buenos Aires and this game is an opportunity for him to regain some confidence. Time will tell though whether the equally mobile Oosthuizen usurp his place in the tighthead prop pecking order.
There aren’t as many current Boks released to the Sharks or Lions as have been released to WP but the presence of contenders such as Oosthuizen and Nkosi who have returned from injury makes this game as interesting from a national viewpoint as the one in Cape Town, if not more so.
Depending on whether Erasmus wants to replace Le Roux in the squad, there may be an extra fullback spot up for grabs, in which case both the Sharks’ Curwin Bosch and the Lions’ Andries Coetzee could have something to play for.
Both have become the forgotten men in South African rugby just recently but with a whole season of international rugby behind him, Coetzee in particular could be worth keeping in the mix, particularly during the period when Warrick Gelant is recuperating from injury.
Weekend Currie Cup fixtures:
Friday, September 21
Free State Cheetahs v Pumas
Venue: Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein.
Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni
Saturday, September 22
Sharks v Golden Lions
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Egon Seconds
Western Province v Griquas
Venue: Newlands, Cape Town
Referee: AJ Jacobs
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