Johannesburg - On Saturday, Johan “Rassie” Erasmus takes the first step out of the honeymoon period by naming his first squad as Springbok coach.
Maiden Bok squads can be things that either get players, fellow coaches and supporters in your corner or very much against you. The fact that he aims at selecting 45 players means there should be no problems initially, but there are still a few things he needs to take into consideration. Here are five of them:
Injury has robbed Erasmus of both incumbents, Warren Whiteley and Eben Etzebeth, leaving him with a tough decision to make on either a stand-in or the new Springbok captain. If he wasn’t already enamoured of Whiteley (and there are rumours he is) or Etzebeth, this is still an opportunity for him to pick a captain who will not only be his right hand man on the pitch, but also a leader whose identity will set the tone for his regime. There is a (justified) feeling that he could finally install Siya Kolisi as a leader a year later after he was overlooked for Etzebeth, but the Stormers’ captain’s form has been patchy. The other popular options available to him are flyhalf Handré Pollard and Duane Vermeulen. Whoever he goes with will be revealing in its own way.
The Wales Match
Played outside the international window and in Washington a week before the all-important beginning of the three-match series against England, this game has come with its own logistical issues, especially as it is one Erasmus has to win as his first official test as coach. A meticulous planner, Erasmus said as long as three weeks ago that the plans were in place. The notable details of that plan were that the US-bound squad would leave only on the Wednesday before the game and seven or eight of them would play in the first test against the Poms. Erasmus has a massive reputation as a master strategist and this game means he gets to prove it in his first test in charge.
Ideally, the point to having access to overseas-based players is to use them to shore up weak areas from the home-based players. By the looks of it, hooker, tighthead, scrumhalf and maybe inside centre are the positions that answer to that description, which would mean Bismarck du Plessis, Vincent Koch, Faf de Klerk and the old crowd favourite, Frans Steyn, should be in the squad. It’s a tricky balance because if there are too many of the overseas-based folks it will unbalance the side not only in playing terms but also psychologically, as the locals won’t be pleased at not being rewarded for their loyalty.
In a squad of 45, pretty much every man and his dog will be there, which means initially there won’t be issues for those counting how many black players are in the team. The real reveal will be when Erasmus picks his Welsh team and the side for the first test against England. Erasmus has made the right noises about the available black talent, his only query being whether they were all getting quality minutes (as in rugby under pressure and for long enough). His own selections will speak volumes about his intentions.
Joan Rivers may have been late for a while now, but the question of style she always posed remains. Whenever a new Springbok coach picks a new squad, the rugby fashion police descend on him and ask what style his team will play. Despite the fact that the Boks are usually quite a boring team to watch, it’s a question that is nevertheless asked, and nearly sunk Peter de Villiers in his first year and definitely played a role in sinking Allister Coetzee.
Will they play like the Lions, the Bulls, the Sharks or the Stormers, we ask? Given that nobody would admit to wanting to play like the Stormers, the answer will probably come from a combination of the other three.
But Erasmus would be best served keeping it under his hat.