Boks: Another new loosie combo in Mendoza?

Rassie Erasmus (Gallo)
Rassie Erasmus (Gallo)

Cape Town - The loose trio seems the likeliest area - again - if there is to be a shakeup to Springbok plans for the return Rugby Championship Test against Argentina in Mendoza on Saturday (21:10 SA time).

Head coach Rassie Erasmus suggested after the generally satisfying 34-21 Durban triumph that he might make as many as four or five changes to his line-up for what, he is clearly well aware, will be an even tougher contest as the Pumas aim to ignite their well-known home passions.

At first thought it is tempting to venture: why any amendments to the SA mix at all?

The Boks, remember, banked their first bonus-point victory on home turf against these foes in five years at Kings Park, and once again his charges - starters and substitutes alike, for the most part - displayed pleasing conviction and composure to recover comprehensively from a scratchy start (including a halftime arrears).

But Erasmus also looks more and more like a man with a clear plan, independence of thought and devotion to longer-term objectives, so at this stage there is little reason for excessive fear over changes he may make.

Besides, when he speaks of alterations it may well be that the majority of them are shown to involve his bench arsenal; his match-day 23 will be revealed on Thursday.

Erasmus says there could be occasions on the road ahead that he feels a need to physically beef up his loosie alliance … so don’t write off the possibility that that road includes the one leading to Mendoza, where the Boks have had uncompromising, close shaves in both previous Test meetings.

The first was a very fortuitous 16-16 draw in 2012, and the second a 22-17 win for the visitors a year later.

A reasonably obvious casualty in any perceived horses-for-horses intentions among the loosies next weekend, then, would be Warren Whiteley, an eighth-man whose main attributes revolve more around stealth and guile than sheer grunt.

He was workmanlike rather than especially earth-shattering in Durban and, since his return from lengthy injury at the tail end of Super Rugby, has not yet produced his best possible form at any level.

If Erasmus feels the time has come in the follow-up clash to try out two stocky open-siders in the same trio - incumbent starter Francois Louw and Marco van Staden, who earned a maiden cap off the bench for 20 minutes at Kings Park - then the former could be asked to reprise his role as a makeshift No 8.

The Bath-based veteran of 58 Tests has started two previous Tests at eight with mixed success, although one was in the rousing, desperately narrow 25-24 Newlands reverse to the All Blacks last year, where he played his part in the humungous effort to topple the world champions.

By keeping captain Siya Kolisi at blindside - he was good in patches there on Saturday – and handing Van Staden (108kg and a traditionally robust competitor) a first start at six, the Boks should be well enough equipped for a stern onslaught from the Pumas pack in the tight-loose, although their lineout options at the back would be more limited if Whiteley sat out.

Another possibility open to Erasmus, if he were to keep up his recent penchant for trying out different combinations among the loose forwards, would be returning Kolisi to the open side - hooker Malcolm Marx is the best stealer in the Bok pack at present, anyway - and bringing in a particularly brawny unit (a long-time Bok tradition) at No 7.

In that case, in-form lock Pieter-Steph du Toit could go back to the side of the scrum, where he was beginning to acclimatise quite nicely a few weeks back, and a place at No 5 be found for either of Franco Mostert or lanky RG Snyman.

The Bulls man can seamlessly operate in either second-row berth and was unlucky not to feature at all in Durban plans after his encouraging strides in the England series. With his near-freakish height, he would automatically help fix certain Bok flaws too noticeable, in Saturday’s victory, in the lineout department.

Now Gloucester-based, the big-hearted Mostert is also well capable of being a blind-sider, as evidenced from some Lions matches.

*Erasmus has opted to leave behind for the South American trip a specialist No 7 in the shape of no-frills Sharks youngster Jean-Luc du Preez, as he trimmed his broader squad a little for the venture.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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