Springboks

Are Rassie's Springboks World Cup fit? Wales the test ...

Rassie Erasmus (Getty)
Rassie Erasmus (Getty)

Cape Town - Throughout 2018, the Springboks have threatened to put their hands up as serious World Cup contenders next year in Japan. 

It started with some scintillating play in the first two Tests over England in June where the nature of the tries scored suggested that this Bok side would be one to watch under new coach Rassie Erasmus

Defeat to England in Cape Town followed in the 3rd Test as Erasmus gave opportunities to some fringe players, and the Boks then embarked on a Rugby Championship campaign that would also produce mixed results. 

Defeats in Argentina and Australia did not go down well, but the Boks bounced back with one of their best performances of all time as they stunned the All Blacks 34-32 in Wellington. 

That defensive performance and the way the Boks were able to get over the line against the best in the world immediately sparked encouragement that South Africa could be major players in Japan next year. 

Unable to capitalise on that momentum, the Boks then let a lead slip from a commanding position to go down against the All Blacks at Loftus while, on their first match of their end-of-year tour, they were edged by England in controversial fashion. 

A last-second try secured a laboured win in Paris, while last weekend the Boks battled to a six-point win over the Scottish in Edinburgh. 

It leaves Erasmus with a record of 7 wins from 13 in 2018 and a win percentage of 54% as national coach. 

Compared to Allister Coetzee's return of 33% in his first year, Erasmus has performed far better. But is 54% a number that suggests the Boks can challenge for a third World Cup crown?

If the Boks win against Wales on Saturday, Erasmus will take his win percentage for the year to 58%.

A return of 3 out of 4 on the northern hemisphere tour, given the dramas of the England loss and the 'Farrell tackle', would be considered a success. 

Wales are flying high. 

Under the leadership of Warren Gatland, they have quietly gone about notching up 8 Test wins in a row. Wales have also beaten the Boks in all of the last 3 matches played between the sides in Cardiff, while they were victorious in Washington in June in what was Erasmus' first Test in charge.

Not even the bookmakers can pick a winner for Saturday ... it is that close. 

This is the first time since he took the job that Erasmus has named the same starting XV for consecutive Tests, and while that speaks to the magnitude of this fixture, it also shows how close we are to the World Cup. 

The Boks have just 4 confirmed Test matches between now and their tournament opener against the All Blacks in Yokohama on September 21, and it looks like Erasmus is starting to settle on his best combinations. 

There will not be any time for over-experimentation in next year's Rugby Championship, and a glance through the Springbok side for Saturday all-of-a-sudden has a settled feeling. 

There will be one or two changes, but for the most part these are the guys that Erasmus is going to back in Japan. 

For that reason alone, Saturday's Test becomes crucial for the Boks. 

A win, coupled with a solid performance in all aspects, would leave Erasmus and Bok fans feeling quietly satisfied about what they have achieved this year and what they can hope to achieve next year. 

A loss, however, would ring alarm bells at the worst possible time. 

Kick-off on Saturday is at 19:20 (SA time). 

Teams:

Wales

15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Nicky Smith

Substitutes: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Owen Watkin

South Africa

15 Willie le Roux, 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff

Substitutes: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Eben Etzebeth, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Cheslin Kolbe

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