Rassie Erasmus looks set to back an unconventional 10-12-13 combination for the weather-afflicted contest against England at Newlands on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI in Cape Town.
Elton Jantjies ran with a probable Springbok starting side on Monday afternoon. The flyhalf attended a press conference on Tuesday, and declared himself ready for an extended opportunity after playing from the bench in the first Test against England and then missing the second altogether.
Not long after the press conference concluded, heavy rain began to fall outside the team hotel on the Foreshore. The team bus travelled to training at Cape Town Stadium in the downpour.
Perhaps the wet weather gave Erasmus cause to rethink his selection at flyhalf for the next game. Then again, perhaps he has already decided that a weather-afflicted Test will give him some more answers regarding the skills and abilities of certain individuals.
The Boks went down 38-3 to Ireland on a wet night in Dublin last November. After Jantjies delivered a particularly poor tactical performance in challenging conditions at the Aviva Stadium, he was replaced by Handré Pollard at No 10 in the next three Tests.
Pollard produced an assured tactical performance in the first two Tests against England. It’s fair to say that the Boks have found their first-choice No 10. What Erasmus will want to know, however, is who else can do the job in the lead-up to the 2019 World Cup. The Boks need to travel to that tournament with at least three excellent flyhalf options.
Erasmus also looks set to select a new midfield pairing in André Esterhuizen and Jesse Kriel. The Boks have yet to settle on a first-choice No 12. Frans Steyn withdrew from the Bok squad recently, while Jan Serfontein, the go-to man in 2017, is nursing an injury. Damian de Allende blew hot and cold in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein.
The situation is a lot healthier at No 13. Lukhanyo Am impressed in the recent Tests, and will only improve with more experience. Kriel, the more senior man, has been playing some excellent rugby for the Bulls this season and a solid performance against England this week will put some pressure on Am ahead of the Rugby Championship.
Erasmus has another big call to make at fullback. If the game at Newlands was the sole focus, then the Bok coach may have opted to persist with Willie le Roux at No 15. Le Roux was solid under the high ball in the first two Tests.
What Erasmus will want to see sooner rather than later is whether Warrick Gelant can do a similar job. Gelant is yet to start a Test at fullback, and the challenge won’t come any bigger than an aerial bombardment courtesy of an England side stacked with strong tactical kickers on a wet evening at Newlands.
The Bok coach said on Monday that there won’t be more than four or five changes this week. The team has built up some momentum, and Erasmus is keen to capitalise on that. There shouldn’t be any changes to the starting pack.
There has been talk of resting Franco Mostert, who has played a lot of rugby at franchise level this season. If Mostert were to sit out, Pieter-Steph du Toit would move to No 5, Jean-Luc du Preez would come in at blindside flank, and lock Marvin Orie would come onto the bench.
Mostert and RG Snyman ran with what appeared to be the starting side on Monday, though, and Erasmus may be tempted to give that combination another opportunity. They may not get the chance in the Rugby Championship, when first-choice locks Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager return.
The big question on the bench is whether Schalk Brits or Chiliboy Ralepelle will wear the No 16 jersey. Erasmus wasn’t giving much away at training, using both of those hookers as well as Bongi Mbonambi when running the team plays.
Embrose Papier could also be set for an opportunity from the bench. The young Bulls scrumhalf made his Test debut against Wales in Washington DC. A wet weather Test against England will present a different challenge, though, and Erasmus may get to see how ready Papier is for similarly difficult matches in New Zealand and Europe later this year.
Springboks (probable) – 15 Warrick Gelant/Willie le Roux, 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images