Johannesburg - The one thing that Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus definitely cannot complain about ahead of his first foray as head mentor in the Rugby Championship is lack of preparation time.
The Boks begin their quest for a trophy they have never won in the southern hemisphere international competition’s current four team format when they face Argentina in Durban on Saturday. For some players in the team the kick-off to the match will be the culmination of six weeks of preparation in camp in Stellenbosch, according to supersport.com website.
While the official Championship squad was only announced ahead of the arrival of the Lions players last week, the Stormers players in the group were training under Erasmus and his assistants the week after their final Super Rugby match against the Sharks. The Stormers had a bye in the last round, so the likes of skipper Siya Kolisi, who looked like he was in need of a rest in June after playing almost non-stop during the first half of the year, has now had well over a month to refresh.
It hasn’t been idle time though, for while Erasmus was mindful of the need to manage his players, he saw the need to keep them sharp enough to avoid what could have been a readiness lag behind teams that had several players competing in the final rounds of the Super Rugby play-off phase.
“We had seven guys initially and then the Bulls came and we gradually filled up the group in bits and pieces,” said Erasmus.
“We trained with the Sevens guys initially. It was a chance for the players to have a break from playing, but at the same time I didn’t want the guys going off and hunting and fishing. It a team falls out of Super Rugby at quarterfinal stage or before quarter-final stage then it is difficult for them to get thrown straight from there into the Rugby Championship.
“You could say the players need a rest but then Crusaders had no rest and played a final. Their players will have no problem adjusting to Championship rugby and we need to be the same.”
Erasmus says the time in camp has been well spent.
“We had a chance to work on a lot of fundamental things. We worked on evasion skills, high ball catching and things like that initially and then when the other guys started to come back into camp we started to work on tactics and team plays. We have had a great build-up to the Championship this year and I definitely think we will reap the rewards for the work we have put in.”
Even though they haven’t played any matches, the players have been kept match sharp through assimilated training sessions, with the Western Province Currie Cup squad providing excellent opposed practice opportunities before they flew last week to France for a two match tour. The assimilated match situations are what has given Erasmus the confidence to select Eben Etzebeth for the Championship even though the lock hasn’t played a match since the final test of 2017 against Wales in Cardiff eight months ago.
“Eben is one of the fittest guys in the squad and has done all the hard work. I am not wary of playing him because he has taken part in match assimilations,” said the coach.
Etzebeth’s contention for the No 4 jersey that has been his since 2012 is bound to be one of the points of interest now that he is fit again as RG Snyman, who made his debut in Etzebeth’s absence, was one of the best Bok players against England.
The composition of the back row is another point of interest as Erasmus has hinted he might want two fetchers and has also given an indication he wants Kolisi to play blindside flank, which could have implications for Pieter-Steph du Toit, who played there against England.
But the fact that for once a Bok coach appears to face headaches when it comes to accommodating his best players in the team is a positive. Not all the players tried in June came through, but enough did to improve depth, and there are areas, such as centre, where there isn’t just one obvious first choice combination in mind.
The one area where Erasmus has been hit by injury is the back three, with Warrick Gelant and Sbu Nkosi both ruled out while Aphiwe Dyantyi struggled with a niggle before the Super Rugby final and may be a concern.
It appears that Erasmus might opt for Lwazi Mvovo’s experience and all-round game - he has played fullback - ahead of the explosive pace and X-factor of his Sharks team-mate Makazole Mapimpi for the match against the Pumas.
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