Cape Town – They were “borderline” anyway … but may now have tumbled down the wrong side of the World Cup 2019 fence.
A handful of Springboks who started at Loftus almost certainly needed to seriously wow head coach Rassie Erasmus on Saturday if they were to sneak into the 31-strong party for the Japan-staged event – to be revealed in eight days’ time -- and arguably did their causes a bit more harm than good in the often ugly, mildly fortuitous 24-18 victory over Argentina.
Unlikely now to be on the plane will be all of Warrick Gelant, Andre Esterhuizen, Dillyn Leyds (the WP man released back to the Currie Cup final round), Rynhardt Elstadt and Thomas du Toit, even if four of them remain part of an ongoing squad of 36 assembling for a camp in Bloemfontein before the party is whittled down.
It was always going to be a difficult date for the overwhelmingly second-tier personnel Erasmus picked for the Pumas Test, with unfamiliar positional combinations a strong feature … and, for much of the contest, it showed.
Under the circumstances, it is difficult to be too harsh on the group of players who underwhelmed in Pretoria; in many cases we already know they are better than that.
Yet with the Pumas clash a final opportunity for fringe customers to try to tilt the balance in their favour for RWC selection, starters on the day like fullback Gelant, inside centre Esterhuizen and left wing Leyds – the first-named two especially more hopeful of the Far East nod, perhaps – are in considerably deeper danger now of stay-at-home status.
Versatile prop Du Toit also struggled to assert himself at his main trade of scrummaging in a game where the Argentinean pack struck back commendably there from their Salta mauling; the “Tank Engine” was always a long shot for RWC selection anyway, given the currently robust depth of front-ranker resources.
It is also increasingly likely that one or both of loose forwards Marcell Coetzee and Elstadt will fail to earn a ticket; the former had begun in lively fashion before concussion ended his participation (perhaps expensively?) as early as the 16th minute.
Still, while Elstadt on second Bok appearance was abrasive, direct and hard-working, the considerably more experienced Coetzee seems a likelier fit for the World Cup – though again amidst an impressive cupboard of options -- with his ability to occupy all three loosie berths comfortably and prior reputation at the highest level.
Perhaps the least convincing showing of the entire Bok starting XV in Pretoria came from scrumhalf Cobus Reinach, but bear in mind that he had impressed as a substitute against Australia just down the highway in Johannesburg a few weeks ago, and Erasmus made a point of saying anyway after Saturday’s close shave that the UK-based nippy player will be among his three travelling specialist factors in the position.
Gelant has blown hot and cold in two starts this season (Australia, and then last Saturday against the Pumas) and the Bok brains trust may well be happy enough with a fullback arsenal in Japan made of stalwart and current first choice Willie le Roux, backed up by the versatile claims of Frans Steyn and Cheslin Kolbe.
As for Esterhuizen, his presence as the back-up No 12 to more regular recent pick Damian de Allende is also threatened by CWC 2007-winning utility dynamo Steyn, seemingly benefiting nicely now from a long spell in Bok camp with the improved conditioning emphasis it has allowed him: many still swear with some justification that inside centre is his best stationing.
The man-of-the-match showing by returning, fired-up right wing S’bu Nkosi at Loftus means he has become a major challenger again in the top-tier Bok wing department, alongside the likes of Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi, so that is highly likely to mean Leyds – who offers possibilities anywhere in the back three – can only hope now for a late call-up to Japan if injury problems arise.
By process of elimination, predicting the final Bok squad for RWC 2019 should become an increasingly straightforward exercise over the next few days, provided that there are no freak, major mishaps to personnel in “Bloem” …
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