Cape Town – It
may be a cliché to talk of “Operation Desert Storm” and the like, but the
Springbok side selected for Saturday’s World Cup match against neighbours
Namibia looks about as geared as it possibly could be to run the minnows off
While the margin of victory may not matter a whole heap in terms of final Pool B pecking orders – New Zealand one, South Africa two looks a betting certainty from here – the Boks are under some pressure, let’s face it, to produce a biggie.
They have posted 105 and 87 points respectively against these foes in the only prior bilateral encounters, so the vast public expectation is likely to be that they get at least pretty close to that “stampede” hallmark in a morale-raising exercise after the round-one defeat to the All Blacks.
Rassie Erasmus’s charges, while unfortunate to play second fiddle in certain respects, earned some brickbats from critics over the box-kick-heavy style of play and perceived lack of varietal elements in the 23-13 loss to the defending champions.
So Saturday at the City of Toyota Stadium (11:45, SA time) is a perfect opportunity for a wholly re-arranged (as expected) Bok side to show a bit of multi-dimensional sparkle … and maybe even swagger.
At least on paper, Erasmus didn’t disappoint on Wednesday when he revealed his selection hand: there is almost a Barbarians feel to the Bok starting XV, and an up-tempo, ball-in-hand philosophy really should kick in ever more noticeably as the contest develops – especially on the assumption that the Bok pack has ensured some heavy, retreating legs amidst the opposition eight by then.
While still well-stocked in pure tight-five “grunt”, even in that department the Bok team has a healthy look of athleticism, considering the pairing of two exceptionally tall, muscular but also explosively mobile locks in RG Snyman and Lood de Jager.
There is little reason to believe that the duo won’t feature in at least some linking and general rampaging play with their long legs and quite in-built desire to get involved on that front.
That said, they won’t be able to completely ignore their duties closer to the coalface against a Namibian pack likely to be earthy and uncompromising in the initial exchanges, at worst.
For one thing, the Bok lineout is compromised -- in depth of option terms -- by Erasmus’s emphasis on speed and low centre of gravity among his loose forwards for Saturday.
While Kwagga Smith and the creative choice at No 8, acting captain and more routinely hooker Schalk Brits, are relatively easy to lift at the back of the lineout and may come decently into their own on that front if required, their strengths will more greatly be required in open exchanges; both fliers will provide valuable extra oomph on attack and help to progressively drain the Namibians’ lungs.
I do find it just a little disconcerting, and may not be alone, that frontline skipper Siya Kolisi isn’t among the starting line-up and the official line is that he is “continues his rehabilitation with more planned game time from the bench”.
Kolisi, clearly not yet back at full tilt after his knee injury earlier in the season, did begin the crunch fixture against the All Blacks – and was fairly muted – and I would have thought a start against the rank underdogs this weekend would have been an ideal opportunity to amass solid miles in the legs.
Be that as it may, hopefully he gets pretty close to a full half after the break? A couple of those thunderous, trademark gallops down the touchline combined with a deft offload or two could do wonders for restoring his premier confidence levels.
While 13 changes to the run-out XV will seem a lot, and potentially a hazard to continuity, Erasmus has quite smartly alternated his teams over the course of 2019, and the backline, especially, contains most of the elements of the group who looked sprightly in the 35-17 “back-up team” triumph over Australia in Johannesburg at the outset of the Rugby Championship.
The only differences in the back division from Ellis Park will be at centre, where Frans Steyn (at No 12) gets his first start for South Africa since 2012 -- in place of Andre Esterhuizen, who narrowly didn’t make the RWC cut -- and Lukhanyo Am, first choice right now in the outside berth, staying involved primarily because Jesse Kriel has a mild hamstring issue.
Otherwise, it’s the identical back three who faced the Wallabies (Messrs Gelant, Nkosi and Mapimpi) and the same halfback pairing of Elton and Herschel Jantjies.
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