Multiple captains for Boks in Rugby Championship?

Eben Etzebeth (Gallo)
Eben Etzebeth (Gallo)

Cape Town - The Springboks may have a number of captains over the next few months as they navigate the unique squad challenges they have in order to get their squad for the Rugby World Cup to be in top form when they leave for Japan.

According to the supersport.com website, with captain Siya Kolisi already on the sidelines with an injury that will be carefully managed, there is an opening for a captain to take over in his absence and lead the team into the Rugby Championships in a few weeks' time.

But rather than name one captain as an option, Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus may well name two - perhaps even three - for the upcoming Tests to take charge as he juggles a team and tries to bring a host of senior players who are returning from injury back into form again at the same time.

For that reason, the captaincy may change with the circumstances and Erasmus decided not to tie himself down to a replacement for Kolisi and is likely to use members of the senior core leadership group of the team to compensate for the loss, so as to strengthen the leadership for the challenges that will still come this season.

It's no secret that Erasmus is looking to experiment in the Rugby Championship, the last time the Boks can do this before heading to Japan, and it's no secret that he may use two different squads to play in the home and away legs of the tournament.

But Erasmus made it clear it won't be an A or B team scenario, but rather what would suit the team dynamics in returning players to action earlier.

"The first two games, and you can read between the lines - it will be a challenge - especially with flying out of South Africa on a Sunday and getting to New Zealand on a Tuesday morning. We will probably mix up the first two games in terms of personnel," Erasmus said.

"When I say that, it wouldn’t exactly be an 'A' or 'B' side, because there are a few guys who need game time - Pieter-Steph du Toit hasn't played for six, seven, eight weeks. If Siya was fit, he would be one of those guys. Eben Etzebeth hasn't played for a while and neither have a lot of the overseas based guys.

"We probably can't just take a first choice team to New Zealand, because there hasn't been a lot of guys who have played for a lot of weeks. We are probably going to juggle the squad in how we split the teams against Australia and New Zealand. To make sure both teams are pretty competitive.

"In terms of captaincy, that brings a few players into contention. Etzebeth, if he gets cleared, he will probably need game time in the first game because he hasn't played a while and he will come into contention for the first game.

"There will be a guy like Pieter-Steph to get some game time and he will be in contention. Duane (Vermeulen) will be one of the obvious choices. Beast (Tendai Mtawarira) needs some game time, he hasn't played for a while. (Steven) Kitshoff hasn't played for a while. Depending on how the weekend goes, on Friday after Siya's scan and after what we see Eben's X-rays look like after the brace comes off, we will make that call on Monday.

"There are some good options but it will probably come out of those few guys for these first two Test matches."

Erasmus added that while this may be seen as a gamble, he sees it as a positive, and the Super Rugby blowout by SA teams has given the Boks a chance to assemble earlier and be in camp together, and that time may well prove to be crucial when the World Cup arrives.

"The positives outweigh the negatives. The big positive we have now is a bit of a pre-season. We almost have a month together - almost like a Super Rugby pre-season. We have three conditioning weeks, then a Test match week. That is a positive thing, we can drill in a lot of stuff that we couldn’t do last year," he added.

"If you think about last year, before we played England, we had the Wales Test match. We had 280 minutes of training time and then we went into the England series. We have now had a week and a half of training with almost the whole group. The flip side of that is that you don’t get a lot of game time and guys come back from injury. But we are really trying to simulate - and I know simulation doesn’t match it 100 percent game time - but we are trying to simulate match intensity.

"That is the thing that we have to get right. The team that flies to New Zealand, if they don't get enough game time in the Australian Test, you might go with a really good squad on paper but landing in Wellington with a good team on paper, but not really being match sharp, is a real challenge for us.

"That is why it is not two teams, but the make-up of how we are going to juggle the players will be a challenge but these three weeks will give us a good chance to get them up to fitness levels. Where they sometimes peak in Super Rugby, you now have the opportunity to do some conditioning with the team, that is a positive, but game time is a big thing."

Erasmus said that while fitness would not be a problem, sharpness in match situations would be perhaps lacking at times, but he had no other choice but to use the opportunity to bring players back from injury and in form.

"We will be a little bit underplayed and you would never have thought that, given that in the middle of Super Rugby a number of people said our guys are overplayed. Because we didn't go too far in the playoffs, we might be a bit underdone. Some of the overseas guys finished four months ago, so it is something we will have to manage."

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