Little room for experimentation as Boks front up to Irish

Siya Kolisi will captain the Springboks against Ireland this weekend. | BackpagePix

Siya Kolisi will captain the Springboks against Ireland this weekend. | BackpagePix

Published Jul 3, 2024


Although there’s a rebuilding phase in the Springbok set-up looking at the 2027 Rugby World Cup, the respect the world champions have for Ireland was clear to see with the strong side coach Rassie Erasmus selected for Saturday’s first Test in Pretoria.

A Bok side with 20 World Cup winners and 966 Test caps between them will look to get a first win since 2016 over the Irish. Here, Leighton Koopman looks at key things learnt from Erasmus’ team announcement.

Experience holds the key

While Erasmus knows that blooding the junior players is the key to eventually striking gold at the 2027 Rugby World Cup in Australia, the immediate need is to build more winning momentum after the first victory of the year a couple of weeks ago against Wales.

That stuttering start was because Erasmus made changes to his side, but he is falling back on the tried and tested players who faced the Irish during the 2023 World Cup.

It also indicates the respect the Boks and Erasmus have for Ireland in selecting their second-most-capped side behind the one that played in the 2023 final.

Bok bench ... forwards overload

Why mess with a tactic that’s working, right? Yes, the Springboks are trying to mix up their style of play a bit more, especially with the acquisition of attack coach Tony Brown.

But bullying opposition forwards should still be the priority and it’s good to see that the Boks will not steer away from that, at least not yet.

There are plenty of players that will suit a running game, something the South Africans will eventually want to perfect. They’ve sort of perfected the forwards-based game and if they are to beat Ireland in this two-Test series, a lot will depend on how the forwards front up to the physicality of the visitors.

Lukhanyo Am (with ball in hand) misses out on the first Test against Ireland at Loftus. | BackpagePix

Experimenting will take a back seat ... for now

Erasmus was forced to do it in 2018 when he stepped in as head coach, and due to Covid-19, former head coach Jacques Nienaber had limited time to put together sides.

Now in his second term, Erasmus will have enough time in the four-year cycle until the World Cup to experiment with players in certain positions.

He could have used the post-World Cup excuse that they are exploring different avenues with new players and sent weakened teams to play the Irish. But Erasmus knows a lot is weighing on this series and the rest of the year to achieve consistency between World Cups.

Never a dull moment with Erasmus

Erasmus joked that his job might be on the line if things don’t balance out against the Irish or in the rest of the season, but the Springbok side could not be in better hands at the moment.

He’s a master at taking the pressure off his players and taking the proverbial knock for them, as long as they return that faith on the field with their performances during Tests.

Erasmus knows the world’s eyes will be on them on Saturday, but during the week he takes that pressure off those having to defend the Springbok jersey. In an intense week for the world champions, how he sets the tone building up to Tests helps the side a lot.