The dust has hardly settled on the Rugby Championship and already we are turning our attention to the year-end internationals – writes Rugby365’s Jan de Koning.
While the Springboks are still stuck at No.5 in the world rankings – more than two rankings points behind fourth-placed England and almost 10 points behind first-placed New Zealand – they are indeed a lot closer to a top-three spot than it seems.
That will become evident when the Boks take on England, France, Scotland and Wales on consecutive Saturdays next month.
England (November 3) and Wales (November 24) are ranked just above the Boks at No.3 and No.4, while France (November 10) and Scotland (November 17) are both just below SA at No.6 and No.8.
However, the selection for these matches will carry far more significance than the rankings will.
It is the final opportunity for Bok coach Rassie Erasmus to get answers to the questions about his backup personnel.
His need to ‘build depth’ and give the backup players some much-needed game time will be the overriding factors.
After November there are only next year’s three Rugby Championship Tests and perhaps a couple of warm-up matches. Those will be used to get the first-choice team into shape.
Obviously, injuries will play a role in the final selection, but looking at Erasmus’ selections throughout 2018, his starting XV has an established look about it and will remain unchanged – unless injuries dictate otherwise.
It is when it comes to Erasmus’ backup selection that the picture is a lot murkier.
Jan de Koning takes a look at the selection options for November.
First choice: Willie le Roux (Wasps, England)
One of the problematic positions. Le Roux won’t be available for all the matches on tour. For one, the opening match against England falls outside the international window. There is no clarity on whether Warrick Gelant has recovered from his shoulder injury.
Back-up options: Damian Willemse (Stormers/Western Province), Warrick Gelant (Bulls), Curwin Bosch (Sharks), Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse, France – also not available for all the games), Frans Steyn (Montpellier)
First choice: Makazole Mapimpi (Sharks)
The No.14 jersey has been blighted by injuries. Sibusiso Nkosi started against England in June, before an ankle injury to Nkosi opened the door for Mapimpi. When the latter was injured during the Rugby Championship in Australasia, Jessie Kriel started on the right wing against New Zealand in Wellington. Cheslin Kolbe started in the last two matches. Much will depend on the fitness tests of the various players in the next three weeks.
Back-up options: Sibusiso Nkosi (Sharks), Travis Ismaiel (Bulls), Lwazi Mvovo (Sharks), Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse, France – also not available for all the games)
First choice: Jesse Kriel (Bulls)
Even though Lukhanyo Am, before he fractured his arm on Bok duty in New Zealand, started in the No.13 jersey, Kriel has since established himself as the premier outside centre. Am’s lack of game time – if he recovers in time – will also give Kriel another run in the midfield.
Back-up options: Lukhanyo Am (Sharks), Lionel Mapoe (Lions), Ruhan Nel (Western Province), Frans Steyn (Montpellier)
First choice: Damian de Allende (Stormers)
When he was first named by Erasmus, there were doubters abound. However, De Allende has begun to form a formidable midfield partnership with Kriel in the midfield. Some still feel Andre Esterhuizen deserves a chance and he may well get it on the year-end tour.
Back-up options: André Esterhuizen (Sharks), Frans Steyn (Montpellier), Damian Willemse (Stormers/Western Province), Rohan Janse van Rensburg (Sale Sharks)
First choice: Aphiwe Dyantyi (Lions)
The options are plenty, but experience at international level is thin. Dyantyi has truly been one of the finds of the year – still raw, like an uncut diamond.
Back-up options: Lwazi Mvovo (Sharks), Courtnall Skosan (Lions), Dillyn Leyds (Western Province)
First choice: Handré Pollard (Bulls)
Pollard had a rough patch midway through the year, but eventually settled down and started to live up to his potential. Not the finished product yet, but clearly settled and comfortable in the No.10 jersey.
Back-up options: Elton Jantjies (Lions), Damian Willemse (Stormers), Robert du Preez (Sharks), Frans Steyn (Montpellier)
First choice: Francois de Klerk (Sale Sharks, England)
After bursting onto the international stage in 2016, he was overlook the following year. Rassie Erasmus saw something very special and recalled him. Even more important, he found a way to utilise his unique talents. However, it is in the back-up column where the issue is – Ross Cronje’s season-ending in jury will mean there’s even less experience for the year-end tour.
Back-up options: Embrose Papier (Bulls), Ivan van Zyl (Bulls), Cameron Wright (Sharks)
First choice: Warren Whiteley (Lions)
One position where there is no shortage of quality or depth. Duane Vermeulen could just as easily be listed as a first choice. In both cases their leadership and experience make them invaluable assets. Whiteley’s big drawback is the constant injuries in recent seasons.
Back-up options: Duane Vermeulen (Kubota Spears, Japan), Sikhumbuzo Notshe (Stormers), Dan du Preez (Sharks), Francois Louw (Bath, England)
First choice: Pieter-Steph du Toit (Stormers)
Just in case there are still some who don’t know, No.7 is a blindside flank in South Africa. Du Toit fits the bill perfectly – he is fast, strong, has a high workrate and can also play at lock. In fact he played at lock most of his early career. The return to fitness of Jean-Luc du Preez is a major boost for the Boks and will offset the injury to Teboho Mohojé. Captain Siyamthanda Kolisi could always move across or he can look at England-based Nizaam Carr.
Back-up options: Jean-Luc du Preez (Sharks), Sikhumbuzo Notshe (Stormers), Francois Louw (Bath, England), Nizaam Carr (Wasps)
First choice: Siya Kolisi (captain, Stormers)
As captain he is always the first name on the team sheet. After an iffy start in June, Kolisi has grown as both captain and player. There is plenty of openside back-up if Kolisi is required to move across to the blindside.
Back-up options: Marco van Staden (Bulls), Francois Louw (Bath, England), Albertus Smith (Lions & Yamaha Júbilo)
First choice: Franco Mostert (Lions)
With his high workrate and sound set-piece skills he has overtaken all the other second row forwards and allowed the coach to re-deploy Du Toit to the back row. He can also play on the blindside flank, which give the coach additional options if there’s an injury crisis. And then next year Lodewyk de Jager will also return, to make this a very
Back-up options: Rudolph Snyman (Vodacom Bulls), Ruan Botha (Sharks & Kubota Spears), John Schickerling (Stormers)
First choice: Eben Etzebeth (Stormers)
After a slow start, while working his way back to full fitness from a lengthy injury lay-off, he has formed a formidable partnership with Mostert.
Back-up options: Marvin Orie (Lions), Jason Jenkins (Bulls & Verblitz), Chris van Zyl (Stormers)
First choice: Frans Malherbe (Stormers)
Many have questioned why Malherbe starts ahead of Stormers teammate Wilco Louw, but the coach seems to have a plan – even though Malherbe seems to struggle to last the distance.
Back-up options: Wilco Louw (Stormers), Vincent Koch (Saracens, England), Coenie Oosthuizen (Sharks), Trevor Nyakane (Bulls), Thomas du Toit (Sharks)
First choice: Malcolm Marx (Lions)
There is no-one like him. A key player in the Bok set-up and vital to the cause when the coach wants more grunt.
Back-up options: Mbongeni Mbonambi (Stormers), Armand van der Merwe (Sharks), Mahlatse Ralepelle (Sharks), Schalk Brits (Western Province), Bismarck du Plessis (hooker, Montpellier)
First choice: Steven Kitshoff (Stormers)
He has slowly overtaken The Beast (Tendai Mtawarira) as the Boks’ starting No.1 this year. Not the finished product yet, but will be invaluable at the World Cup next year.
Back-up options: Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks), Retshegofaditswe Nche (Cheetahs), Coenie Oosthuizen (Sharks), Trevor Nyakane (Bulls), Thomas du Toit (Sharks)
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