Rassie’s ‘riot act’: Response will be telling

 Rassie Erasmus (Gallo)
Rassie Erasmus (Gallo)

Cape Town - Well, he’s gone and done it.

Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus took the radical route - six personnel changes to the starting XV - for Saturday’s key Rugby Championship clash with Australia in Brisbane (12:00 SA time).

A stubborn part of me had suspected that some element of red herring might have been behind the mounting whispers early in the lead-up week to the match that he was going to shake up the team with some violence.

I felt it might have been a cunning ruse by Erasmus instead to get certain, perhaps slightly complacent players just a tad fretful about their statuses after the rank sub-standard, losing showing away to Argentina … but then grant them the opportunity for redemption at Suncorp Stadium, not always the Springboks’ happiest hunting ground historically.

The overwhelming nucleus of that group, after all, had only a week earlier engineered a bonus-point victory in the Durban clash with the very same Pumas.

Instead you might say that intolerance - anger, even? - over events in Mendoza was revealed on Thursday to be the dominant, current emotion from the national coach.

There is a fine line, in sports selection, between perceived inertia and going to extremes, if you like.

One of the biggest pitfalls of the prior, two-year Allister Coetzee regime was the first-named phenomenon. “Toetie” went through torturously long periods where he stubbornly rewarded mediocrity ... certain enduringly uninspiring selections at wing and fullback, especially, appeared to bear that out.

So is Erasmus simply showing a welcome point of difference to his oft-maligned predecessor? Acting decisively after a collective Bok performance in South America that almost indisputably came up short for passion and urgency?

A personal gut feel, for what it’s worth, is that he may have gone a bit too far - and in doing so, risking introducing certain elements of insecurity squad-wide - in the way he has reshaped his start-out arsenal.

Yes, the spin seems to be that the Boks now boast a “formidable bench” (something hard to dispute when you examine the proven CVs of certain of its inhabitants) ... but that also increases the onus on the starters to roar from the blocks with notable conviction.

Remember, fast starts have been anything but a sound characteristic of teams under Erasmus’s still relatively infant charge.

So while there is some reassurance to anticipating a muscular, firebrand player like Malcolm Marx stripping off his tracksuit at some point in the second half, Bok enthusiasts will also have to hope that the horse hasn’t bolted by then.

This is the first time 16-cap Marx, one of the world’s most swiftly-developing new stars from 2017 onward, has been “dropped”, really - and I wouldn’t be too inclined, myself, to buy into any theory that he is somehow being cocooned for the more daunting All Blacks meeting a week later.

Marx, remember, isn’t exactly a victim of over-play in 2018, given his injury layoff that saw him miss some Super Rugby for the Lions and the whole England series during June.

It was only two Tests ago, too, that he was a pivotal figure in the full-house triumph over the Pumas at Kings Park, where he wrestled as many as four or more turnovers and had a “carry” count of around double that.

Most certainly, he was among the individual under-deliverers in Mendoza, but on the broader evidence of his international contributions thus far, I’d venture he is a victim of slightly cruel treatment for Saturday.

Already facing the huge, twin threat of David Pocock and Michael Hooper in the poaching department, the Boks now being sans Marx in that area looks a questionable move indeed.

It is less than one full “four-year cycle” ago that a Bok line-up would likely include a raft of genuine fear-factor players by reputation: Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez, Bryan Habana, JP Pietersen, Bismarck du Plessis, Schalk Burger ... you might not end it there.

The present group contains conspicuously fewer such genuine “personalities” on the Test field, but Marx has certainly been one of them and the Wallabies will hardly shed tears at his absence from the Springbok first XV this weekend.

Still, Erasmus is entitled to act as he did; the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

If his wholesale alterations have the effect of jolting his troops - starters and subs alike - into bristling, dynamic action that engineers a critical triumph (the first by the Boks in Australia since 2013) then his presently faltering credentials will receive a simultaneous boost in the public eye.

It is if these particular, significantly remodelled Springboks are beaten convincingly by an Aussie team coming off successive 25 and 28-point thrashings from New Zealand that, as they say in Afrikaans “die poppe gaan dans” ...



15 Israel Folau, Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Will Genia, 8 Pete Samu, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Lukhan Tui, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Scott Sio

Substitutes: 16 Folau Faingaa, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Izack Rodda, 20 Ned Hanigan, 21 Joe Powell, 22 Bernard Foley, 23 Jack Maddocks

South Africa

15 Willie le Roux, 14 Makazole Mapimpi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.

Substitutes: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Beast Mtawarira, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Handre Pollard, 23 Cheslin Kolbe

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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England 92/4 (28 ov)
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England 92/4 (28 ov)
Pakistan 326
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