Cape Town - Just
how much smarter and more "worldly" have a battery of overseas-based Springboks
become through their tenures abroad?
That is a tantalising
question that should begin to be answered every bit as much from the Bok bench
at Ellis Park on Saturday as from the starting line-up against
Australia (17:05 kick-off).
Toulouse-based new cap Rynhardt Elstadt on the open-side flank will have plenty
of curious eyes cast onto him in the Rugby Championship opener - probably more
so than veteran, Bath-employed loose forward colleague Francois Louw, who has
had plenty of Test exposure in the last couple of seasons - it is off the
splinters, more likely, that a group of foreign-based players will get the
chance to solidly resurrect their credentials in this World Cup year.
that head coach Rassie Erasmus has chosen for Saturday happens to be unusually
laden - 50 percent of the eight - with personnel who are presently on the
books of northern hemisphere clubs: Vincent Koch (Saracens), Marcell Coetzee
(Ulster), Cobus Reinach (Northampton) and Frans Steyn (Montpellier).
That most of
them have been short of a first-class gallop in recent weeks, due to the
off-season in those climes, could go some way to explaining why he intends
infusing them largely for later portions of the Wallaby contest, presumably
giving the majority of them the last quarter or thereabouts to strut their
stuff in the thin Highveld air.
But it will
nevertheless be a fascinating little gauge of their hunger and sharpness to aid
the Bok cause in a season culminating in the Japan-staged global extravaganza
toward year’s end.
already know, almost beyond dispute, is that all four cut it at the highest
level when offering their A-games, if you like.
Steyn has especially little to prove: the burly utility back is the lone
survivor of the entire, broader current Bok squad from the 2007 World
Cup-winning one under Jake White’s now distant tenure. (He was already a star
then, and overwhelmingly remains that to this day.)
Or does he?
single-minded, often unpredictable character, 32, has only contributed actively
to the Bok cause three times – all as a substitute, in 2017 - in the last seven
years, which is not exactly the greatest statement of green-and-gold commitment,
whatever the varying reasons for his long absences.
At the same
time, his string of skills (not to mention considerable physical presence) in
several berths is not to be under-estimated and Erasmus has avoided being widely
pilloried by either press or public for coaxing him back into the frame - a man
of steel, in many senses - in 2019.
conditioning is not always deemed tip-top, to put it quite mildly, so this
match may provide some early signals of just how suited he is to playing a more
fulsome role in Bok plans - possibly as a starter, something last witnessed at
Dunedin in September 2012 - over the next few months.
But all of
Koch, Coetzee and Reinach will be very much in the RWC 2019 picture as well if
they get on the front foot performance-wise despite the likely limits of their
duty, time-wise, on Saturday.
of 13 on-and-off prior caps between 2015 and 2018, is extremely highly regarded
in England when he puts his mind most firmly to his destructive scrumming and
carrying prowess, and certainly has it within him to challenge Frans Malherbe’s
status as incumbent Bok tighthead, even if he will also have to vault
Saturday’s starter at No 3 in the form of Trevor Nyakane.
loosie marauder Coetzee, meanwhile, was a favourite much of the time of the
head coach of the last World Cup cycle for South Africa, Heyneke Meyer, who got
them to bronze in the 2015 event, and the former Sharks dynamo should be
itching to add to his 28 Bok appearances - all earned before 2016.
He brings a
bit of the intensity both as a ball-carrier and over-the-ball nuisance that
Schalk Burger used to, and appears to have largely put behind him a saga of
serious cruciate knee-ligament medical setbacks.
While it is exciting that coach Erasmus has empowered a 23-year-old rookie, the
Stormers/WP’s Herschel Jantjies, with starting scrumhalf duty against
Australia, the nippy UK Premiership-based player clawing his way back into
broad Bok favour could go a long way to allaying fears over the depth of
genuine quality in the key slot.
has not represented the Boks yet in the latest four-yearly World Cup cycle,
having earned his 10 caps before it, it will be interesting to see whether Reinach
has curbed just a bit of his impulsive, frantic tendency - not always a
drawback, mind - and matured as a game manager.
That is a likely event considering his
burgeoning experience on slower European pitches where more conservative
game-plans are often the order of the day.
Throw in the
inspiring tale of someone like home-based loosehead prop Lizo Gqoboka of the
Bulls almost certainly earning a maiden cap - the Transkei village-born player
only began playing the sport some 10 years ago - also off the bench this
weekend, and there should be very little reason indeed for any Bok supporters
to doze off by the three-quarter mark on Saturday, whichever way the contest is
Warrick Gelant, 14 S'bu Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11
Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Francois
Louw, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Lood de Jager, 4
Eben Etzebeth (captain), 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Tendai
Substitutes: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18
Vincent Koch, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22
Frans Steyn, 23 Dillyn Leyds
Tom Banks , 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Samu Kerevi,
11 Reece Hodge, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nic White, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7
Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 5 Rory Arnold, 4 Izack
Rodda, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper
16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Rob
Simmons, 20 Jack Dempsey, 21 Will Genia, 22 Matt To’omua, 23 Kurtley
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