Cape Town – Rassie
Erasmus is likely to be leaning more toward satisfaction, in broadest terms,
than despondency over where his rebuilding Springboks stand following
completion of the home England series.
with certain gremlins, the Boks completed the primary objective of beating
Eddie Jones’s charges (2-1) and did enough to suggest they should keep getting
better, and more street-smart, in the lead-up to RWC 2019.
some likely, key returnees from injury, the head coach will seek continued,
steady improvement as the next objectives - the Rugby Championship and a
European end-of-year-tour - loom.
Here is my
appraisal of their current health, by positional department …
Springboks are unrecognisable - in all the right ways - in this area from so
much of the Allister Coetzee tenure.
It was the
prior coach’s Achilles heel, but with better identification of personnel,
Erasmus is already beginning to allay fears here.
Roux looked fresh, resurgent and dangerous at fullback in the first two Tests,
while the baptisms of exciting young wings Aphiwe Dyantyi and S’bu Nkosi as
offensive forces proved largely promising indeed.
concern, of course, will be the way the Boks were twice in a row stung in wide
channels early on (both Jo’burg and Bloemfontein) by high-tempo England
attacks, suggesting lots of work lies ahead over defensive adhesiveness and
But shall we
put that down to pure naivety?
versatile Warrick Gelant also hovers pleasingly; he looked competent in wet
conditions when it came to his “basics” at the back.
haven’t heard the last from canny footballer Ruan Combrinck at Test level,
Curwin Bosch is too talented to be wholly overlooked, while Makazole Mapimpi is
another outright “flier” bubbling under.
Verdict: Much improved situation, though
inexperience a lingering worry.
gradually building, I guess.
provokes mixed feelings, the very seasoned Frans Steyn may yet have to be lured
back into the Bok fold (assuming he is up for it?) at some point as he could
take charge of the No 12 berth, serving as that useful “extra flyhalf”,
especially on damp days.
de Allende and Andre Esterhuizen (at least in the June opener against Wales)
had their moments at inside centre, whilst the outside berth is a close duel
between Jesse Kriel and Lukhanyo Am.
35-cap Jan Serfontein is another who could sneak back into the mix later in the
year, perhaps offering possibilities for both slots.
Verdict: Both berths still a little fluid, no
absolute “must pick”.
Pollard has almost indisputably cemented himself in as the premier pivot, at
least for the next few major assignments. (But remember that he also offers Dan
Carter-like options as an inside centre.)
to him stays a quandary, as fairly similar-styled Robert du Preez had a
mini-nightmare on brief debut off the bench in Washington DC, and Elton
Jantjies floundered in the Newlands mud.
making positive noises anew about Stormers wunderkind Damian Willemse, and his
undoubted X-factor could make a huge difference if he is blooded successfully
at the highest level soon.
Well, Faf de Klerk largely shone for his tenacity and sprightliness against the
English -- even if his game management remains a work in progress -- and
deserves the main jersey for the time being. He must try to stave off penalties
more consciously, though.
resources beneath him remain shrouded in uncertainty: whippet Embrose Papier
sports only nine minutes of activity across two Test matches, and Ivan van Zyl
is still seriously callow at this level too.
Verdict: No 10 stocks slightly better than No
plus in the series, of course, was veteran Duane Vermeulen confirming what an
asset he will remain for the World Cup … one of few true “aura” factors in the
Bok ranks at this stage.
He will play
fitfully over the next few months, but that should at least allow for cerebral Warren
Whiteley – albeit so different a player in style and build – to pick up his
Test career again after a lengthy layoff.
du Toit has been pleasing as a blindside flanker, though he continues to offer
big second-row credentials as well. Jean-Luc du Preez? Jury still out.
was inspiring as Bok skipper from the open-side berth, and robust in general
exchanges … though question marks remain about whether he really fits the bill
in “fetching” terms. Still, he needs some feet-up time!
again, former Lions tearaway Jaco Kriel could challenge for a roaming flanker’s
Verdict: Solid pool, but first choices not
completely cast in stone.
consistency of Franco Mostert and heartening strides of lanky newcomer RG
Snyman meant the Boks didn’t suffer in this area despite the absences of proven
figures Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager.
latter two are back in the frame – and with Du Toit, as mentioned, always
interested in the locking berth, too – South Africa should have an
embarrassment of riches heading into next year.
thing about someone like 2.06m Snyman is his adaptability between four and
five: for example, he could easily partner Etzebeth by assuming the latter
is another combative soul not that far off readiness for major Tests.
Verdict: Vast array of talent, especially
once some seniors fit again.
Tendai Mtawarira and Steven Kitshoff, the Boks can sleep blissfully, knowing
that the loosehead role is wonderfully covered for the period up to and into
the Japan-hosted World Cup.
also increasingly marked by clarity: I’d say a pecking order of strongman
Malcolm Marx (now back in action) and tigerish Bongi Mbonambi as his immediate,
extremely capable back-up is the way ahead for some time.
And yes, I
still like the Schalk Brits possibilities as a vastly experienced third option,
despite the challenges of his unusually advanced age.
decent tightheads around, but with some currently sporting certain
reservations: young Wilco Louw should (no, hopefully will) return fired-up soon
after being overplayed in early season, Frans Malherbe remains ring-rusty after
his neck woes, and Thomas du Toit still needs plenty more time on his “wrong”
side of the scrum to become a formidable international element.
forget that another “converted” prop, Coenie Oosthuizen, may be challenging
anew by nearer the end of this year, but there could also still be a No 3 gap,
considering the fluid look, for Saracens’ Vincent Koch - a formidable force on
his good days.
Verdict: Loosehead and hooker pretty settled,
No 3 not yet nailed.*Follow
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