JOHANNESBURG - Rassie Erasmus must use November’s tour of Europe to properly grow his squad depth and finally answer the questions still lingering about the makeup of his probable World Cup squad.
Whether the likes of overseas-based key men Faf de Klerk and Willie le Roux are available or not, Erasmus should see their possible absence as something of a blessing. It would force him to look at other players in the No 9 and 15 jerseys - and so ensure he picks the right men to back-up his first choice operators come the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
At the same time, the unavailability through injury of Beast Mtawarira should be viewed as a wonderful opportunity to test the younger and hugely promising Steven Kitshoff and Trevor Nyakane in northern conditions.
The next month will not only give Erasmus and his coaching team a chance to test some fringe players again - and give them more time in the Test arena - it will also help the Springbok boss in his attempts to have his World Cup group almost sewn up going into next year. And crucially, Erasmus will want to know he has two or three equally capable and able players in each position who can slot into a starting team at any stage, against any opposition.
And that’s why giving the likes of fringe men Embrose Papier, Ivan van Zyl, Damian Willemse, Andre Esterhuizen, and whoever else he picks from a Europe-based team, a decent run will be so beneficial to the Boks. Because, the more game time and experience these men get now, over the next four Tests, the better the Boks will be in 2019 and will hopefully help prevent what happened in the lost Test to the All Blacks at Loftus a few weeks ago.
Bringing on the replacements when Erasmus did - late on when it appeared the home team were on their way to a famous win - wasn’t really the problem; it’s just that the men who came on weren’t exactly sure how to close the game out, because of their limited game-time, for some, up to then.
Second training session of the day for the Springboks at preparation camp in Stellenbosch. Plenty of fitness and tactical drills to get the guys going for the rest of the week. @MTNza @ASICS_ZA #LoveRugby pic.twitter.com/Of13wJx2Mw— South African Rugby (@Springboks) October 22, 2018
The Boks have shown good progress since going down to Australia in Brisbane and by the end of the Rugby Championship were on par, if not stronger in several departments, than the supposedly other-worldly All Blacks, but now need to kick on, too. And they can do that, even if Erasmus bloods a few new players.
The thing is the All Blacks have become the force in the world game because they have so much quality depth and coach Steve Hansen is spoilt for choice when it comes to picking a starting side; he’s got so many options, from loosehead prop to fullback. For the Boks to become a real, consistent factor again, they, too, need to have two to three equally excellent players in each position, vying for the starting spots.
That is why Erasmus must take the chance and play some of the men in the coming four Tests who’re not considered regulars. He needs to know he can count on them at any stage, against any team, in any situation, rather than merely believe in their potential.