Cape Town - The
naming of his first Rugby Championship match-day 23, to play Argentina in
Durban on August 18, may well spark more passionate debate than Springbok coach
Rassie Erasmus’s revelation of his broader squad on Monday.
After all, a
35-strong party means more than two full rugby teams, so at this point
“surprises” have been kept to a relative minimum.
the obligatory, listed handful of injured personnel and the already-known
unavailability for this tournament of someone like heavyweight No 8 Duane
Vermeulen, Erasmus has trimmed some fat from the even more swollen, 43-man
group he revealed at the outset of his four-match June baptism (a once-off
against Wales, three Tests against England) in the hot seat.
of the picture now are the likes of Nizaam Carr, Bismarck du Plessis, Dan du
Preez, Jason Jenkins, Oupa Mohoje, Ox Nche, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Kwagga Smith,
Curwin Bosch, Robert du Preez, Travis Ismaiel, Frans Steyn and Cameron Wright.
buds of spring, if you like – uncapped inclusions – can’t be quibbled over very
much, as Erasmus bloods, at least in his extended mix, fleet-footed flyhalf
with versatile possibilities Damian Willemse, Lions blindside flank Cyle Brink
and the robust young Bulls fetcher Marco van Staden.
But here are
some more salient questions, arguably, around the entire squad named:
1 Etzebeth’s ‘back’ … but just how
ready is he?
It should be
a major cause for jubilation among Bok fans that premier lock Eben Etzebeth is back
in the group.
Vermeulen (sadly absent for a while) and Malcolm Marx (a welcome return after
his mid-year injury), I’d say he counts among the mere trio of genuine “fear
factor” Bok players to frontline foes in what is hardly a golden era for the
rugged Etzebeth has not played any competitive rugby since as far back as
December 2 (against Wales in Cardiff) due to a lingering shoulder injury which
also led to worryingly slow regrowth of one of his usually formidable biceps.
be no guarantees, then, that he will be ready - after no Super Rugby for the
Stormers - to assume a starting role in the first portion of the tournament,
home and away against the Pumas.
“phasing in” is his best bet, and increasingly broader deployment as the
tougher obstacles (on paper) of Australia and New Zealand loom.
potential first-choice lock pairing of Etzebeth at four (once fully fit) and
lanky, versatile RG Snyman at five holds considerable appeal, but we may just
have to be patient on that score …
captain Kolisi going to stay at No 6?
of veteran, Bath-based open-sider Francois Louw to Bok favour raises
interesting possibilities for a reshaped loose trio in the Championship.
He sports 57
Test caps and, with his 114kg frame, is more than simply a pilferer; he is a
strong ball-carrier, mauler and knock-back tackler.
But is Louw
going to start? If that’s what Erasmus envisages, then his confirmed, ongoing
skipper Siya Kolisi will have to shift over to blindside, the side of the scrum
where he is not an out-and-out powerhouse.
gut feel is that, when the tournament begins, Kolisi will remain at six, with
Pieter-Steph du Toit continuing his extremely decent strides (in the series
triumph over the English) at No 7 and Warren Whiteley bagging the eighth-man
offers just about the right blend, I believe, of grunt and mobility.
3 Is the 2019 transformation
objective on track?
stated quest is to have a squad containing 50 percent players of colour
(Government is pretty firm on the objective, too) by the time the World Cup
comes around in Japan late next year.
won many friends in transformation-conscious circles for the manner in which he
has given exposure - meaningful, too, not just “five-minutes” stuff - to
various, exciting black players so far.
include, for example, his new wing dynamos Aphiwe Dyantyi and S’bu Nkosi,
though the latter is regrettably on the crocked list now.
charismatic Kolisi captain also went down well, winning the Boks a far from
insignificant fresh crop of staunch supporters from previously disadvantaged
stark fact remains that, even as RWC 2019 looms larger on the radar, the
percentage of players of colour in the current squad has dipped to 37, from the
44 it was when Erasmus named that first group ahead of the June challenges.
point, and sooner rather than later, he will need to start hiking it again.
4 Is Elton Jantjies simply ‘hanging
It has been
a bad few weeks for the mercurial, yet also enduringly fragile 28-year-old
He had a
wretched afternoon when asked to operate at No 10 in the dead-rubber Test
against England at miserable, heavy-pitch Newlands, and then failed to tick the
box for generalship all over again in his next red-letter game: Saturday’s
Super Rugby final where he was massively outplayed by the Crusaders’ Richie
Mo’unga, not even top of the New Zealand flyhalf pecking order as things stand.
observers would have been entitled to believe, then, that Jantjies’ time as a
Bok option (he has 26 on-and-off caps, stretching back to 2012) was finally up.
stays in the party, albeit probably by the skin of his teeth, but now some way
behind likely top pick Handre Pollard and perhaps also Willemse, the
20-year-old thrill machine who also offers superior physical credentials in a
still see Jantjies as someone who offers “super-sub” possibilities for the
seems doubtful, considering that he cannot really fill any other berth in a
still “around” for the Boks ... but he may be notably peripheral.
5 Has Rassie got the backline balance
scrumhalves! Some might wish to view that as a statement of depth.
smarter, frankly) analysts are likelier to see it as a reflection of ongoing
uncertainty in the key department.
Yes, Faf de
Klerk has rightly re-established himself at first choice based on the England
series, but below him the situation stays extremely volatile.
of Embrose Papier and Ivan van Zyl has coaxed (presumably?) Erasmus into recalling
Lions stalwart - often smart and determined, but no whippet - Ross Cronje to
the No 9s also means the Boks look a little light in some other backline areas:
notably at wing, I’d venture, where the only true specialists named are
Dyantyi, the now 32-year-old fitful international Lwazi Mvovo, and Makazole
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