Wales Test: The Boks pressing for starts

2018-11-19 18:12
Bongi Mbonambi
Bongi Mbonambi (Getty)

Cape Town - Andre Esterhuizen, Bongi Mbonambi, Vincent Koch, Thomas du Toit, Lood de Jager ... those are among names likely to be front of mind to Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus as he mulls over possible, freshening changes to his starting line-up for the European tour finale against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.

READ: Boks stay 5th in rankings, but close gap on England

Or perhaps the key word should be “if” he contemplates tweaks to the line-up.

The Bok side will be revealed on Thursday, as has become customary, and Erasmus may quite feasibly be leaning toward as few alterations - if at all - as possible.

Certainly there would be a decent enough case, for instance, in keeping faith with the XV who began the Test against Scotland at Murrayfield, where the Boks deservedly ground out a 26-20 win.

But that is also no guarantee that Erasmus won’t shake up the mix a little: remember that he wasn’t afraid to do so, in at least three instances, even after the Boks had edged out France at last gasp a week earlier.

Admittedly his hand on that occasion was forced in some instances by, for example, the unavailability of Faf de Klerk for Edinburgh (it opened the gate so compellingly for Embrose Papier), and the injury to Warren Whiteley that ruled him out of selection plans.

Erasmus will be particularly mindful, at a time when one-foot-on-the-plane syndrome becomes just a bit of a threat and fatigue is beginning to kick in anyway in a few cases, of wanting the most willing possible legs (and minds) on the park against the global third-ranked Welsh.

Almost all of his bench players added very pleasing impetus to the Bok cause at Murrayfield, so he has to grapple with this general thought: should I keep them largely in that capacity, hoping for major “supersub” energy all over again this weekend, or reward one or two of the reserves with elevated status as starters instead?

In the case of Esterhuizen, he is an exception in that he wasn’t even on the bench at Murrayfield, but he possibly comes into the starting picture at inside centre where Damian de Allende continues to earn so-so reviews on the tour.

After a forceful showing in the agonising 12-11 loss to England at Twickenham first up, the Stormers/WP man has been less effective in both of the two subsequent games, despite the victories achieved each time.

Too little of his known game-breaking ability has been displayed, even if you run the risk - should Esterhuizen re-enter the radar - of not necessarily solving that problem: the Sharks star relies a lot on his directness and huge physicality to make yards, although his offloading game and general range of skills has improved this year.

De Allende may well survive, thus continuing his re-swelling alliance with Jesse Kriel; they would have been the midfield starters in all four Euro Tests.

READ: Boks slowly banishing big weakness

But others are knocking with increasing force at the door for starts, again at least partly because an incumbent is also a little short of his A-game.

Feisty hooker Mbonambi, for example, is snapping properly at the heels of much-touted first choice Malcolm Marx, even if the restoration of more consistent Bok lineout standards acts as manna in Marx’s favour.

The Lions powerhouse, however, has had rather less impact in open play than might have been expected at the outset of the tour - at least for someone quite widely trumpeted as the world’s best in his highly specialist berth.

Meanwhile both reserve props, Thomas du Toit and Vincent Koch, showed plenty of all-round gusto when introduced at the same time (58th minute) in place of Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe respectively in Edinburgh.

Koch earned particularly high praise from SuperSport pundit and the most capped Springbok of all time, Victor Matfield, after Saturday’s match and the Saracens-based player could represent a “rotational” inclusion, at the expense of Malherbe, in the energy-sapping tighthead slot for the Wales challenge.

The situation at lock, where both RG Snyman and Franco Mostert were bastions of reliability against the Scots, may be complicated in a positive way if traditional first-choice No 4 Eben Etzebeth - absent through injury for both of the last two Tests - is deemed suitably fit for a last hurrah in the calendar year in Cardiff.

But even without Etzebeth (there had been no update on his condition at the time of writing), De Jager is another of the tall-timber brigade starting to find best sharpness after his layoff of several months, and he can be considered for both second-row berths given his proven, impressive versatility.

Speaking of adaptable qualities, back-three excitement machine Cheslin Kolbe oozed healthy appetite in his 17 minutes on the park against Scotland, which will keep both current wings, S’bu Nkosi and Aphiwe Dyantyi, on their toes ... though probably not in special danger of a first team step-down at this point, in either case.

Elton Jantjies? He has looked so constructive and composed as a sub of late that that very fact could count against him returning to the No 10 jersey, where Handre Pollard is increasingly solidly glued-down anyway.

No, the right medicine against Wales, surely, seems Pollard operating there again from the start, and then seamlessly shifting to inside centre later on if it is felt Jantjies will inject something different at pivot during the second half.

It’s been working a treat ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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