In the wake of Saturday’s ‘Farewell’ Test at Loftus Versfeld, Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus has some difficult decisions to make in terms of finalising the 31-man squad for next month’s Rugby World Cup in Japan, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
After months of calculated selection shuffling and meticulous planning, Erasmus is set to reveal his hand on Monday, 26 August. Selecting a squad to carry the hopes of a nation at the quadrennial global showpiece is arguably the most challenging – and certainly the most unenviable – task of a head coach.
In part two of our Bok World Cup squad focus, we look at the backs.
When it comes to the back division, the whole is greater than the sum of its part. Does Erasmus bank on specialist cover at scrumhalf, flyhalf and fullback, or does he opt for utility players to do the job if required? Each case is unique.
Faf de Klerk is the clear first-choice No.9, while the meteoric rise of Herschel Jantjies has seen the Stormers livewire establish himself as De Klerk’s deputy. Erasmus’ selection poser here is whether to include a third specialist scrumhalf or, like England coach Eddie Jones, opt for just two and have a player like Cheslin Kolbe take on the added responsibility in case of an injury to either De Klerk or Jantjies.
At flyhalf, Erasmus made his bed early on with two specialists in veteran playmakers Handre Pollard and Elton Jantjies. Damian Willemse was groomed as the third flyhalf option (and a back-up fullback) before injury derailed that plan. He made a big impact off the bench in Province’s 27-23 loss in Kimberley, but it appears to have come too late.
Damian de Allende, Lukhanyo Am and Jesse Kriel are clear-cut choices at centre. Frans Steyn has played the bulk of his rugby at Montpellier in the midfield and this where he’ll be primarily used in Japan. Pollard and Jantjies can both slot in at centre if needed as well, so a specialist like Andre Esterhuizen looks set to miss out.
With several utility players vying for the outside back berths, Erasmus has much food for thought. Again, how much weight will a specialist like Warrick Gelant carry when the likes of Kolbe, Steyn and Dillyn Leyds can serve as fullback cover for Willie le Roux, and which of the wings will lose out?