CAPE TOWN – It’s the big Test on Saturday - the Springboks versus the All Blacks in Wellington.
After a solid outing against the Wallabies in their Rugby Championship opener, the Boks will be looking to stay on the winning path and, of course, prove that their historic win in Wellington was no one-off feat.
Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus faces a few tough calls ahead of the showdown, and the loose trio is one of them.
Here are the options:
He’s Thor, what more?
Okay, so the South African sides’ Super Hero themes might have cast a doubt over whether or not Vermeulen’s nickname still applies, but one thing that cannot be doubted is the influence he can bring to a team, especially at No 8.
His breakdown grind, his brute strength, go-forward in the physical exchanges, that physicality he injects into everything he does, that’s what Vermeulen’s about. The loose trio offers a number of options for Erasmus, but one thing that’s certain is Vermeulen’s inclusion.
Pieter-Steph du Toit
It’s got to the point where one almost expects the Stormers man to be a Man of the Match contender - whether that’s at Super Rugby or Test level.
He produced another massive outing against the Wallabies at the weekend, and has done increasingly well in the No7 jumper. His work rate is always handy in the back row, and he also offers the power and line-out prowess of a world-class lock.
Given the speed at which the All Blacks spread the ball from the breakdown, though, it’s crucial that the Boks - and the loosies in particular - are all over that and press up quickly.
Du Toit isn’t the fastest back-rower around, but it seems like he’s done some speed work, and if he wants to impress in the mobility category, now is the time.
His play at the weekend was the perfect reminder of just what a menace he can be on the ground.
He was a pain over the ball (for the Aussies, that is), slowed their ball down and didn’t take a single step back when it came to the collisions. His turnover also led to Herschel Jantjies’ first try. There have been times where he hasn’t done enough in a Bok jersey, but his performance against the Wallabies highlighted his best asset - that breakdown work.
What a comeback this man has made!
After being tormented by injury, Coetzee enjoyed an unforgettable season with Ulster, a season that was so fine that the Bok - who before this weekend last played for South Africa in 2015 - deserves to have his name mentioned in any Springbok conversation.
When he came off the bench against the Wallabies, another chapter was added to his inspiring comeback story. Coetzee’s appeal is certainly boosted by the fact that he can do it all - get those turnovers, pile on the tackles, carry and add the occasional offload of two.
His playing style and abilities make him a versatile back-row option.
Elstadt’s Bok debut was far from the perfect start, and one thing that was made clear against the Wallabies is that he doesn’t have the speed to be the Bok No6. It wasn’t all bad, though, and he did a lot of the dirty work. But in a group with this kind of depth, you need something that sets you apart, and Elstadt hasn’t proved that he has that.
When speed in a South African loose forward is mentioned, Smith is the figure who takes up the most air time in one’s mind. And rightfully so.
His pace is something else, and that gas combined with his ball-hunting attitude could be just what the Boks need at openside flank, especially if it is Du Toit and Vermeulen who run on this weekend.
He’ll bring the pace, he’ll bring the breakdown edge and he can be a constant attacking threat.