Cape Town – The
starting line-up almost exactly as speculated for much of the week, composition
of Rassie Erasmus’s Springbok bench for the first Test against England on
Saturday became an intriguing element … and it appears to cut the mustard.
Africa’s still fledgling head coach, for a clash that looks pretty tough to
call result-wise, revealed his hand for the keenly-awaited Emirates Airline
Park fixture on Thursday and has good reason to anticipate crucial, late-game
impact from his bench troops - assembled with a conventional five-three split
between forwards and backs.
also hopeful that English legs and lungs will buckle in the final quarter at
altitude (many of their ranks experiencing it at this premier level of the game
for the first time) Erasmus has assembled largely appealing Bok firepower off
At least on
paper, it is a gratifying aspect, and could come into play positively - regardless
of whether the home nation are protecting a lead at an advanced stage or
urgently seeking to eliminate a deficit on the scoreboard.
starting XV will not have significantly ruffled the feathers of the many
pundits who predicted it almost to a tee from as early as Sunday or Monday,
when it was already apparent that very few – it ended up being none – of the
hastily-assembled, rookie line-up from the Wales defeat in the United States
would crack the nod.
True to his
prior-stated intentions, the coach shielded every single player who begins this
Saturday from the long haul to Washington DC and back.
bench, by contrast, is fully subscribed by men who had at least some role, most
of them fairly constructively, in the dubious Wales exercise.
situation could change slightly if Wilco Louw, the tighthead prop who started
last weekend, is hastily brought into the XV against England; the intended
first-choice now, Trevor Nyakane, is nursing a doubt-raising niggle.
As with last
Saturday, there is a strong sense of the “unknown” about the Bok XV, as an
awful lot of combinations will be tried out for a first time, even if there is
little reason to beef about the vast majority of selections on paper (including
on the basis of 2018 Super Rugby form, which explains new caps RG Snyman, S’bu
Nkosi and Aphiwe Dyantyi).
week there are also some reassuringly more seasoned “captains of positions” …
like 98-cap Tendai Mtawarira in the front row, Duane Vermeulen and captain Siya
Kolisi as street-smart loosies, 28-Test Damian de Allende in charge of the
midfield and Willie le Roux at the tiller, as it were, of the novice back
among the forwards, the bench could come up with some vital dynamite as the
hooker Akker van der Merwe will be on high alert, in some respects, as starter
Bongi Mbonambi, while a deserving first choice purely on reputation over the
last year or so (and considering Malcolm Marx’s unfortunate absence), boasts
very little high-tier rugby in recent months after his appendix issues and may
run low on gas after the break.
Van der Merwe,
remember, is no stranger to Ellis Park despite his shift to the Sharks last
year; he is a born-and-bred Gautenger and the “Angry Warthog” is tailor-made
for impact purposes with his busy style and instinctive enthusiasm.
Steven Kitshoff, the barnstorming loose-head prop who made a massive difference
to the Bok scrum in Washington, as they looked to have taken charge last
weekend ahead of the sadly game-swaying Robert du Preez charge-down.
once the veteran Mtawarira has gone past the well-merited 100-cap mark for the
Boks, the younger Kitshoff should only apply increasing pressure for the No 1
jersey (rather than 17), and that phenomenon may not differ when he enters the
fray more immediately this Saturday.
with a point to prove once unleashed off the bench this weekend will be
Pieter-Steph du Toit … possibly a little unlucky not to have made the run-out
He offers a
bit more “meat” than Franco Mostert does in the No 5 lock role (though the
Lions trojan earns the starting rights here and will want to impress his home
faithful), and the blond bomber was also finally looking the part as a Test blindside
flank in the dying embers of Allister Coetzee’s coaching tenure.
Erasmus, I believe, has also been shrewd in offering the rangy Sikhumbuzo
Notshe a spot among the reserves for a second week in a row.
If the Boks
are wanting or needing to up the tempo late in the contest, the skill set of
the 25-year-old, potentially a bit of a “Pierre Spies” for thundering runs,
could come in very handy on the usually rock-hard Highveld pitch.
game-changer by reputation among the backline reserves, too, as generally
in-form Bulls representative Warrick Gelant could get an opportunity for some
bamboozling stepping and jinking either from fullback or wing in the closing
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