Astute … but judge Rassie’s squad after ‘haircut’!

2018-05-26 21:53
Rassie Erasmus (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – You should caution against making overly profound judgements about a national squad when it contains 43 names.

That’s virtually an A, B and C side as things stand, isn’t it?

No wonder the most capped Springbok, Victor Matfield, perhaps only half-jokingly noted from the ranks of the controversially rejigged SuperSport Saturday studio panel that “it was difficult not to get picked”.

But at least the first group of players to have tickled new Bok head coach Rassie Erasmus’s fancy is finally public knowledge.

Such a swollen, initial list of names is understandable, too: Erasmus has the well less than ideal task of overseeing his maiden, clearly experimental Test match in faraway Washington DC - against Wales - next Saturday, before scampering back for the bigger business of three home Tests against England.

We will get a better idea of how he is arranging his deckchairs, including his captaincy preference(s), when a specific group to travel to the United States is named very early next week and a smaller bunch of presumably most top-rated personnel will stay behind in cotton wool for the sake of freshness for the English challenge.

If the exercise against a similarly under-strength Wales does one thing positive - there may not be too much else, really – it will give him an early idea of which most callow customers seem up to the demands of international rugby a little further down the line.

After all, he has included 17 uncapped players in the broad squad and quite a few should see service of varying lengths in game one next weekend.

But the fact that it remains officially a Test match also makes it unlikely Erasmus will wish to throw too many lambs to a possible slaughter, and at least a handful of hardened figures should make the trek across the Atlantic as “balancers” as he seeks a far from unimportant winning start to his tenure.

Speaking of gnarly elements, the five overseas-based competitors named include undisputed, much-decorated pack toughies Bismarck du Plessis (55 prior caps) and Duane Vermeulen (39), an early indication, you’d imagine, that these veterans still have RWC 2019 possibilities.

Stormy petrel Frans Steyn is also recalled, as well as mercurial outside back Willie le Roux.

I believe there isn’t enormous cause to quibble about Erasmus’s extended list: there is a very judicious blend of experience and rawness, and an agreeably strong emphasis in many instances on players who have shone in Super Rugby 2018 – despite the ongoing, unsatisfactory look (and then some?) to the SA conference.

Most positional bases are well covered, albeit that injuries have taken a considerable toll on many obviously desired players, and it is appropriate, for instance, that the coach appears intent on wholly reworking a seriously major frailty of the Allister Coetzee regime: the back three.

Into that particular mix come freshening names like the slippery Le Roux (revisited), Curwin Bosch, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Travis Ismaiel (ticking the box of sensibly bulking up that area a bit) and Sharks gas-men Makazole Mapimpi and the stocky S’bu Nkosi.

Erasmus has also inserted, in his loose forward arsenal, a few players far from dissimilar in style to what he was in his own Bok heyday: speedy and with more than a pinch of flair.

Into that category fall men like Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Kwagga Smith - there is also a new show of confidence in Nizaam Carr - to act as clever foils to brawnier, more direct players like the Du Preez twins and Vermeulen.

Erasmus teams shouldn’t be powderpuff in certain key berths: he has opted for powerful specimens like Jason Jenkins as a No 4 lock (remember that Eben Etzebeth regrettably remains absent), young Ox Nche as an exhilarating ball-carrier and tackler, behemoth converted Sharks tighthead Thomas du Toit and the physical inside centre with developing offload and other skills Andre Esterhuizen.

Scrumhalf was always going to be a problem area and Erasmus’s selections there don’t solve it suddenly, as if by magic wand: we may see some ongoing pain in the berth before notable productiveness and stability takes root, but at least he’s examining some interesting greenhorns in the crisis spot.

Previously capped, English Premiership-based Faf de Klerk may find himself at the front of the pecking order for No 9, and then it is pot luck, perhaps, for which of Bulls duo Embrose Papier and Ivan van Zyl or Sharks livewire Cameron Wright may blossom at the highest level, a touch against the odds.

There are 19 players of colour among the 43, so a percentage right now of 44.18 … at least reasonably close to targets aspired to by 2019.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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