Cape Town - They were the players responsible for a commendable “36-point swing” against Japan in Saitama only a few weeks ago.
Bearing in mind that the Springboks had sensationally lost by two points (34-32) in the maiden clash between the two nations at Brighton in RWC 2015, Rassie Erasmus’s 2019 team shifted the see-saw pretty decisively back in South African favour with a thumping 41-7 triumph in a pre-World Cup Test match on September 6 - so a hefty 36-point turnaround statistically.
It may have been just ahead of the current World Cup, where the sides now meet in a Tokyo quarter-final on Sunday (12:15 SA time), but it was a suitably real-deal contest nevertheless, with both countries fielding the overwhelming nucleus of their “first teams”.
So to what extent will Erasmus be casting his mind back to that thoroughly avenging triumph as he mulls over selection - if there’s even any more mulling for him to do - of both his starting XV and broader match-day 23 for the knockout clash?
The Bok mastermind will reveal his hand on Thursday.
He has more recent form, fitness and the worthiness of positional combinations to consider, of course, as his charges have played four subsequent matches within RWC 2019 itself, even if two have featured his more top-tier troops (New Zealand and Italy) and the other tussles (Namibia and Canada) predominantly his dirt-trackers.
But the temptation is sure to have arisen for him to cast his mind back to the Saitama date, in assembling the correct personnel and formula for knocking over the Brave Blossoms all over again.
Here is a recollection of the Bok team (plus substitutes) responsible for the consummate 41-7 (six tries to one) victory:
Starters: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Bench: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Jesse Kriel.
All of that starting line-up are available for selection, as things stand, for the quarter-final and it would not be beyond the bounds of possibility for a total repeat in Tokyo - especially as far as the backline is concerned. The same back division (significantly?) began the last “first team” clash with Italy, won 49-3.
Unfortunately, certain of the reserves that day - Nyakane and Kriel - have since flown home due to injury, while there were some doubts about a swollen knee afflicting seasoned, adaptable loose forward Louw ahead of Sunday’s big clash.
It also appears as if Erasmus has slightly revised, as the tournament has progressed, his “priority” list in some of the engine-room berths, where Mbonambi could be viewed as now having leapfrogged Marx at hooker, Lood de Jager squeezing out Mostert at No 5 lock, and Mtawarira doing likewise to Kitshoff at loosehead prop.
That was his “Italy” pack recently, and it was a mightily efficient unit in sucking the life out of the Azzurri’s eight … to the extent that those Bok troops could feasibly be retained en masse.
But Erasmus, a meticulous planner, is also not averse to making at least some horses-for-courses tweaks to suit needs when it comes to specific opponents and their varying styles of play, while he has spoken, too, about how weather conditions have changed - cooler, notably less humid, apparently - in Japan as the event has progressed.
One or two minor curveballs, then, are possible in his team announcement, even as a broad theme of consistency will still run through the line-up in overall terms.
Smartest bet? I’m going to venture the status quo for Erasmus’s “big matches” backline, but a fielding of that forward unit - discussed above - that ran out against Italy.
There will be some close, debatable calls, but that’s usually no bad thing, and a reflection of the heat of competition within the present Bok party for places.
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