Be it for the Test against Wales in the United States or the first Test against England in Johannesburg a week later, I’d want to see Bulls lock RG Snyman in a Springbok starting lock jersey.
Eben Etzebeth, if he has recovered from injury, will always have ownership of one of the two lock positions, but it’s the Bulls lock combination of Snyman and Lood de Jager that has been the best in a South African context in the first half of Super Rugby.
There’s an adage in sport that says pick a player when his form is red hot, regardless of how old, young, experienced or inexperienced. I sincerely hope it’s an adage that will hold true when Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus names his first two Springbok teams.
Erasmus has indicated that he will pick two very different match 23s for his first ever Test in charge, against Wales in Washington DC on June 2, and the following week against England in the opening Test of a three-match series.
I suspect the team that lay in wait in Johannesburg will be the one Erasmus initially views as his first XV, with the match squad that travels to the States primarily being those on the fringes of the preferred match 23.
It could all change once those opening two Tests have been played and by the end of the England series you could find that several of those players who started against Wales are in fact the preferred run on XV.
Erasmus, when it comes to forwards, is spoilt for choice. He will be hoping that Lions and Springbok captain Warren Whiteley has a strong tour to Australia and New Zealand and is fit to play the June internationals.
Equally Etzebeth, who captained the Springboks in 2017 when Whiteley was injured.
Etzebeth and Whiteley add class and impact to any starting pack. If fit, it’s a given the duo will start in Johannesburg against England.
De Jager was the South African 2015 Player of the Year, but in the next two years he lost form and also struggled with injury. De Jager, in 2018, is rejuvenated and in many respects reinvented. Bulls coach and former All Blacks, Force, Lions and USA coach John Mitchell has been massive in getting De Jager back to the form of 2015.
De Jager, fit and in-form, is an asset to any international squad, but it’s Snyman’s all-round game that has made the biggest impact. He oozes X-factor, has mongrel and attitude and from what I have been told is also very much a thinking man’s lock. Snyman is big, brutal and bright. Pick him!
I don’t expect Erasmus’s pack selections to differ too much from those who played in 2017. The pack wasn’t the issue in the Allister Coetzee 2016 and 2017 era; it’s the backs who were never up to the challenge.
Everyone I speak to has a different view of the Springboks starting back seven.
James Dalton, tough as they come in his playing days for the Springboks, was never shy in voicing his opinion as a player and the player, affectionately known as Bullet, is as passionate about the Springboks as he was when wearing the No 2 jersey.
Bullet and I do a weekly rugby podcast show called ‘Biting the Bullet’. It’s uncensored and straight to the point. Dalton, in the most recent podcast, told those players he criticised not to be "pu***es" and to understand that his show is called ‘biting the bullet’ for a reason.
Bullet and I discussed Springbok squad selection and especially the choice of backs. While we found common ground in several of our forward selections, we differed in every position in our starting backline.
I had Elton Jantjies to start at flyhalf and Bullet had Handre Pollard to wear the No 10 jersey. Have a listen to the podcast to see who I picked and who Bullet picked in Nos 15, 14, 13, 12, 11 and 9.
And while my ‘bolter’ Springbok would be RG Snyman at lock for the June Test, Bullet’s bolter wears No 15.
Have a listen and let us know who you would pick to start from No 9 to 15 and if you think Bullet’s backline offers more than my starting back seven.
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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