Rugby Championship

Selection: Rassie’s painted himself into corner

2018-09-09 22:04
Rassie Erasmus (Gallo Images)
Rassie Erasmus (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - So what now, Archimedes?

Well, it’s Rassie Erasmus, more accurately, who has to answer that question as his wilting Springbok team - three losses from the last four Tests - shuffle onward to Wellington for Saturday’s Rugby Championship meeting with the world champion All Blacks.

READ: Rob Houwing's Bok ratings

The national coach will be mortified, even as he probably tries hard to supress his deepest emotions publicly, that his charges lost 23-18 to a weakened and virtually as fragile Australian outfit in Brisbane.

If there’s a crumb of comfort from a Test match that only further highlighted the gulf between New Zealand and the remaining trio of teams in the tournament, it is that the Boks dominated the first half at Suncorp Stadium to the extent that they really should have turned around far more than one point to the good.

Had they done so, they probably would have eked out a much-needed victory - yes, even given the unpalatable situation that two penalties by the Wallabies represented the only, but decisive scoring of an insipid second half.

The current Boks, regrettably, seem skittish in the extreme and keep making costly basic errors, as well as infuriating gaffes in judgement, that go a long way to explaining why they are so unusually low-ranked on the global pecking order in 2018.

Eliminate those tendencies and there is still a solid nucleus of credible enough personnel, believe it or not, to propel the national team back to more acceptable levels - not that too many supporters will be anticipating that clawback beginning against the All Blacks in their own den on Saturday.

The big problem Erasmus has, as he mulls over how to shape his team in the next few days, is that his major shake-up of the starting XV (six changes) for Brisbane bore no proper fruit.

Against that backdrop, can he justify shuffling his mix violently all over again? That hardly seems the correct course of action, you’d think, as it would only emphasise instability and, by extension, run the considerable risk of affecting squad morale.

The coach has spoken often enough about the bigger picture of next year’s World Cup, and the associated needs in depth-building terms, but a much bigger priority in the short term surely must be now to restore winning ways as quickly as possible; the Boks are a precarious three from seven this year and public sentiment around the new regime turning increasingly cynical all over again.

Tinkering needs to stop - or at least be put on hold - and Erasmus show greater faith again in a core group as “first-teamers”.

He might do worse, under those circumstances, than remember the inner circle of players who excelled in consecutive Tests at Johannesburg and Bloemfontein to close out the June series against England early.

The Boks are now minus promising, injured wing S’bu Nkosi and the currently unavailable No 8 colossus Duane Vermeulen from that healthy little period, but otherwise Erasmus should revisit the bulk of the key figures from those rousing wins.

ALSO READ: Rassie explains why he subbed Bongi

Subsequently, vital men in pack physicality terms like Eben Etzebeth and Malcolm Marx have returned to action, and should be starting routinely, but it also important that changes not be too widespread again for Wellington in a match many will regard as a potential hiding to nothing anyway.

Although doubt surrounds Makazole Mapimpi again, after the flier was forced off by injury for a second Test match in a row on Saturday, there is a case for saying the backline should be retained en masse – and despite the especially scratchy showings of fullback Willie le Roux and scrumhalf Faf de Klerk against the Wallabies.

Both have the sort of X-factor, for all their flaws, that is otherwise in low stock among the Bok backs and if the underdogs want to be able to keep the All Blacks guessing in certain respects, men like Le Roux and De Klerk will be important.

Remember that both have proved well capable of playing cracking Test matches, even if current form is a worry.

Elton Jantjies certainly didn’t blow this writer away with his showing in Brisbane - some critics branded him “good”; I’d opt for simply workmanlike or functional - but chopping and changing again in the No 10 channel against the World Cup holders, with Handre Pollard clearly also not in vintage touch, doesn’t seem the right course of action.

There are some thorny issues in the pack, including at loose-head prop where Steven Kitshoff and Tendai Mtawarira are neck and neck, and in the second row where less-than-heavyweight Franco Mostert bends his back faithfully but also isn’t truly knocking down doors as a ball-carrier or cleaner.

Both captain Siya Kolisi and Warren Whiteley, in the loose-forward department, continue to skate on thin ice, doing constructive things a little too fitfully and then getting “lost” for a while: they should get tickets to the Wellington starting line-up but perhaps with an associated message that greater visibility has become an urgent requirement.

This is roughly the sort of XV I feel Erasmus should put out at Westpac Stadium, showing a tweak or two but also avoiding too much of a suggestion of panic:

15 Willie le Roux, 14 Makazole Mapimpi (if fit), 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert (or RG Snyman), 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira (or Kitshoff)

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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