Boks: Reading (or trying to) Rassie’s mind

 Rassie Erasmus (Gallo)
Rassie Erasmus (Gallo)

Cape Town - Still some fairly straightforward ones ... but several true stinkers as well.

READ: Jake White wants to lure Willie le Roux to Japan

That is the selection situation as it affects Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus for Saturday’s particularly high-pressure Rugby Championship date with Australia at Suncorp Stadium (12:00 SA time).

He will reveal his hand in Brisbane on Thursday.

Erasmus has already stated - following the severe Mendoza jolt to Bok progress - that any thoughts of further experimentation against the Wallabies have been placed on the backburner.

By implication, then, he is going to be fielding what he considers a lot closer to his intended, hopefully increasingly stable and faithful “first team”.

Then again, what happens if the Boks crash - sadly this cannot be ruled out - in both legs of this toughest phase, also featuring the ridiculously supreme All Blacks on their own turf, of their Championship campaign on paper?

But at least some insight finally looms, it seems, into the personnel Erasmus regards as his Full Monty.

While he is certainly not the easiest selector to read, I fancy he will not wish to show pronounced panic at this point; Erasmus will take the view that his troops collectively were just not at the races in mental terms in Argentina, so will largely have a crack at atonement in Brisbane.

Still, some departments contain dangerously borderline players right now, meaning there will be special interest in the starting-XV hand he deals later this week.

Here is a brief look at the Bok side, berth by berth, and my quest (please don’t shoot me on Thursday; I’ll do extremely well to hit 100 percent or even close!) to read Erasmus’s mind:

Fullback

With fitness issues to contend with on the right wing, there is a chance that talismanic Willie le Roux will switch (reasonably seamlessly, based on past experience) there, and a brave debut facilitated for wunderkind Damian Willemse at No 15. But apart from his lackadaisical look on defence in Mendoza, Le Roux has been a key creator of Bok attacks this season and Erasmus would shift him with reluctance. My forecast: Le Roux

Right wing

There are few alternative options here from the travelling squad ... leaving the assumption that Erasmus is confident the predatory Makazole Mapimpi will have recovered from the injury that saw him leave the park in the first quarter in Mendoza. My forecast (assuming fitness green light): Mapimpi

Outside centre

One of the head-scratchers. The midfield in general looks fluid enough for possible changes to both slots. Lukhanyo Am was bright in Durban against the Pumas but decidedly ordinary in the away leg against them. He is under strong pressure from Jesse Kriel, but may survive on a “last chance” sort of basis. My forecast: Am

Inside centre

Similarly, No 12 is far from nailed down. Damian de Allende is fit again, and threatening. But the brawny Andre Esterhuizen made some of the firmer tackles in Mendoza and may also get a final chance to gel convincingly at the top level with Sharks franchise colleague Am. My forecast: Esterhuizen

Left wing

There’s little reason to deviate from the emerging international livewire who is Aphiwe Dyantyi, even if his alignment (more than his commitment) on defence remains a work in progress. My forecast: Dyantyi

Flyhalf

Yes, he’s had a rather wretched time of it in successive Tests against the Pumas, but Handre Pollard will also, almost automatically, feel more chipper again if (likelier when) his place-kicking regains dead-eye qualities. Erasmus will know that, and probably keep faith in the Bulls man here. My forecast: Pollard

Scrumhalf

“Completeness” in the position continues to slightly elude the little dynamo who is Faf de Klerk, but his good attributes comfortably eclipse the bad ... and he stays head and shoulders above any others in the Bok pecking order. My forecast: De Klerk

No 8

The rangy Warren Whiteley is struggling for premier personal form, but with no other specialist eighth-man in the party (and despite the adaptable credentials of recently disappointing loosie Francois Louw) the Lions stalwart may hold his spot - especially if he gets the help of a big-unit No 7. My forecast: Whiteley

Blindside flank

I don’t know if Erasmus shares my concern that Whiteley at eight and cruiserweight Siya Kolisi as the blindside isn’t a combinational marriage made in heaven. Pieter-Steph du Toit has been sweating blood for the Bok cause, wherever stationed, in recent times and would help give the loosie trio more muscle if (and rightly, frankly) recalled to the XV. My forecast: Du Toit

Open-side flank

With Bath-based veteran Louw not having delivered a thunderous Test performance for a while, his berth at six is definitely under a cloud. There is also young Marco van Staden to consider, but correct medicine now could be to restore Kolisi to this role. I steadfastly believe it is his better station. My forecast: Kolisi (capt)

No 5 lock

Am I alone in thinking beanpole RG Snyman could make an excellent “five”? But it seems Erasmus prefers to view him as a front specialist. Against that backdrop, and if Du Toit is selected at flank in Brisbane, then yeoman workhorse Franco Mostert has a clear passage to remain. But it will be hoped he provides more go-forward than he did in Argentina. My forecast: Mostert

No 4 lock

Simply brilliant, slightly against the odds, on comeback from long-term injury in Durban, Eben Etzebeth unusually seemed to run out of mongrel and energy in Mendoza, where he was yanked after just 47 minutes (rare for him). But he’s an indisputable, class act and should be back breathing fire in Brisbane. My forecast: Etzebeth

Tighthead prop

Watch out, Wilco Louw is back on the rise. He looked good as Bok sub in Mendoza, and then again in an hour’s Currie Cup action for WP in Nelspruit on Friday night. Stormers ally Frans Malherbe played wonderfully in the Durban win over the Pumas, and then was irksomely off the pace in the follow-up game. Possibly armed with a “pull up your socks” message, he may sneak retention, with Louw again offering oomph in the second half. My forecast: Malherbe

Hooker

Still the runaway chief option for the No 2 shirt, Malcolm Marx will also have a major role in combatting the pair of Aussie fetchers (Messrs Hooper and Pocock) on the deck and providing some bullocking charges in general play. Lineout accuracies require renewed sharpening, mind. My forecast: Marx

Loosehead prop

Tendai Mtawarira had been playing inspired Test rugby during 2018 … until he joined the “floundering club” in Mendoza. Erasmus will believe the Beast will restore standards on Saturday, thus limiting Steven Kitshoff to yet another impact job from the splinters. My forecast: Mtawarira

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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