Johannesburg - As numbers go, few are as lacking in personality as the final analysis of the Springboks’ Rugby Championship campaign last year, which reads played six, won two (against Argentina), lost two (to New Zealand) and drew two (with the Wallabies).
With new coach Rassie Erasmus’ new broom seemingly sweeping clean, expectations are pretty high for this season, which begins in Durban for the Boks with a game against the Pumas.
Here are five things Erasmus urgently needs to address:
Solve the Elton Jantjies riddle
At 28, with more than 100 Super Rugby caps, three successive finals in that tournament and 26 Test caps, Elton Jantjies is entering the period in his career when his experience should see him dictate games.
The catch is that, for all the pleasure he has brought Lions’ fans with his Carlos Spencer-esque rugby, he simply hasn’t been able to do that in any of the Super Rugby finals or Test matches in which he has played. After his latest “failure” to get the Lions over the Super Rugby line against the Crusaders last weekend, the expectation was that Christchurch would prove to be the end of his international career.
But based on Erasmus’ comments earlier this week, he’d like to see if he can do what Johan Ackermann and Swys de Bruin did and unlock the Super Rugby Jantjies.
Many have tried and failed, but Erasmus has succeeded at other things we thought impossible in South African rugby, such as a black captain and getting buy-in from the franchises ...
... Or blood Damian Willemse quickly
The 20-year-old’s meteoric rise in domestic rugby looks set to be crowned with an international debut against Argentina as a replacement fullback, where Erasmus has decided he’ll ease him into Test rugby. The gifted flyhalf - who has a ridiculous combination of feet, speed, fearlessness and kicking ability - needs to be even quicker in finding his feet at international rugby level as incumbent fullback Willie le Roux doesn’t look as if he’ll play all the games because of club commitments. The youngster might well find himself as the team’s official back-up flyhalf if Jantjies doesn’t go well.
Find a poor man’s Duane Vermeulen
Duane Vermeulen was head and shoulders above any other Springbok in the June Tests against England, and his unavailability because of club commitments in Japan has left a massive gap in the team from a performance and leadership perspective.
Although Warren Whiteley will bridge the leadership gap, the Boks need to find someone with Vermeulen’s ballast.
Enter potential new cap Cyle Brink, whose past few weeks at Super Rugby level have been grunt personified.
But with Erasmus having said he would have started Marco van Staden, another possible new cap, against England had he been fit, would he really start two uncapped players in a Rugby Championship loose-trio? And where would that leave skipper Siya Kolisi, whom Erasmus has guaranteed a spot in the starting line-up?
What about Whiteley’s leadership, will it be in a squad perspective or on the field?
Win against Argentina and get points in Australasia
If the Boks are to change the narrative of having never won the Rugby Championship, beating Argentina in both the home and away fixtures is a non-negotiable and fighting hard for points in Australasia will be paramount.
Privately, Erasmus probably hopes to shock the Australians and to pick up a bonus point against New Zealand to keep the Boks in touch with a traditionally competitive home leg against those two sides still to come.
Beat the All Blacks once
It’s been four long years since the Boks beat their old foes and if they entertain thoughts of finally winning the Rugby Championship or being a factor at next year’s World Cup, then October 6, the last match of the tournament, looms as a massive date. There, at Loftus Versfeld, the Boks have to go one better than merely giving the All Blacks the hurry up as they did at Newlands last year.
Too many young South African rugby fans are mystified by the so-called rivalry between the Boks and the All Blacks because they simply haven’t seen enough competition between the two teams to warrant it being called a rivalry. October 6 has to be that day.