Cape Town - It is common knowledge now that Springbok head coach Rassie Erasmus is shielding virtually all of his intended first-teamers from Saturday’s Test against Argentina in Pretoria.
That had seemed likely for a while, and the step became even more obvious when his largely premier-tier Boks earned excellent results - draw in Wellington, handsome win in Salta - at the business end of the Rugby Championship to clinch the title and end a 10-year drought.
Erasmus using the Loftus clash as an opportunity to rest the core of his recent globe-trotters and give many of his immediate back-up personnel a chance this weekend seems entirely justified; the exercise still greatly aids his RWC 2019 planning from a squad-depth point of view.
It is also not necessarily too late for some of the starters on Saturday to coax him into a change of mind over first-choice status in certain berths.
Here is a selection of four such players (while acknowledging there could be one or two more, including from the bench) pushing especially hard for “A-team” recognition, and only likely to enhance that with prominent showings against the Pumas:
You have to feel a bit for the often ball-starved Lukhanyo Am at outside centre because the Boks played quite conservatively at first against the Pumas in Salta … and then when things finally opened up to a meaningful extent in the final quarter, he’d been replaced by Kriel on the hour! So the No 13 incumbent, who sports deft hand and foot skills, has often been made to look more workmanlike than genuinely cutting-edged recently. But that also keeps the door ajar for the stocky, considerably more experienced (43-cap) Kriel to muscle into the berth more regularly again. He is also extremely used to partnering the first-choice at No 12, Damian de Allende, in the Bok midfield, and this gallop at extremely familiar Loftus should be very much to his liking in influencing a change of heart from the Bok brains trust ...
The strong-thighed Sharks wing, also increasingly tenacious in aerial contesting, gets a first start at No 14 since the 35-17 disposal of the Wallabies in Johannesburg a few weeks back. Since then, though, big-hearted little dynamo Cheslin Kolbe has had two near-sublime outings at right wing to possibly have nailed down first-pick status in the berth for a while. But the Boks arguably aren’t quite so settled on the left, where Makazole Mapimpi (now among the resting Boks) looks lively as an attacker but some doubts linger about his defensive positioning and awareness. Nkosi is more familiar with the other side of the park, but a powerhouse showing on Saturday provides an outside chance that Erasmus may consider deploying both Nkosi and Kolbe in the same XV, even if it means a switch of sides for one. That said, former Bok captain Jean de Villiers reminded in the SuperSport studio recently that the defensive needs of each wing are different, so you shouldn’t too blithely swap players around between the two jerseys. Nkosi may need to really go some at Loftus to alter thinking, then.
There have been some, inevitable murmurs about the fact that Kolisi’s Bok comeback from injury (his first Test appearance of the year) hasn’t been accompanied by the captaincy reins against Argentina. But that may well be motivated by the fact that he isn’t yet expected to go much more than 40 minutes or so this weekend, and is being allowed to focus squarely on own performance. Still, the heat is on the talented open-sider to prove, with time running short, that he is close enough to optimal form and will indeed be “medically ready” to lead the troops at the key outset (against NZ) of the World Cup. To do that, he will have to acceptably leapfrog Kwagga Smith, the tearaway No 6 in each of the last two Tests, and probably also someone like gnarly Francois Louw (extremely forceful over the ball of late) for duty in the big Yokohama crunch on September 21 - now very little over a month away. But perhaps some people also have short memories of what Kolisi is capable of at his majestic best ...
Lood de Jager
On a couple of occasions in recent weeks, I have heard Bok second-row icons like Victor Matfield and Kobus Wiese suggesting that Etzebeth-De Jager remains the most potent combo for biggest occasions, amidst an impressive broader cupboard of locks. Since then, though, that amazing bastion of high-graft consistency, Franco Mostert, has played two impressive Test on the trot at No 5 while lankier athlete De Jager continues his quest to sharpen up after a longish-term injury. So it is “game on” for that jersey in major RWC clashes. Remember that De Jager earned some widespread acclaim among neutrals at the last World Cup in 2015 for his showings when required there, and retains an edge in general X-factor over Mostert. But the former Lions favourite also won’t easily surrender his current A-team privileges, meaning De Jager could do with an all-round stormer in Pretoria.
15 Warrick Gelant, 14 S'bu Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Schalk Brits (captain), 1 Thomas du Toit
Substitutes: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Kwagga Smith, 22 Faf de Klerk, 23 Frans Steyn
15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Sebastian Cancelliere, 13 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 12 Lucas Mensa, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, 9 Felipe Ezcurra, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera (captain), 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Julian Montoya, 1 Mayco Vivas
Substitutes: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Gonzalo Bertanou, 22 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 23 Santiago Carreras
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