CAPE TOWN – An unprecedented free rein for Rassie Erasmus – he becomes the first Springbok coach who can pick any qualifying player anywhere in the world.
And how he got that right is not too difficult to work out… he is the director of rugby after all as well, so the joke going around social media is that Erasmus the director told Erasmus the Springbok coach that he is allowed to pick whomever he wants!
There is some unhappiness in rugby circles that the “Special One” is being afforded privileges that his immediate predecessor Allister Coetzee wasn’t allowed.
That is true, but let’s be honest – Coetzee didn’t help himself when it came to selection, overseas players or not.
SA Rugby president Mark Alexander said this week that there are just 18 Tests left before the Boks set sail for Japan next September, so it was imperative for Erasmus to have all resources available.
That’s how things should be anyway – why restrict the pool of players you can choose from? Imagine that had to happen in soccer…
But the blank Bok canvas is not as desirable as it appears to be at face value. No matter how much South Africans cry about the 350 players in Europe and elsewhere, and the fact that Super Rugby is not what it used to be, the southern hemisphere is still the bees-knees in my book.
The exasperation of being beaten by slick New Zealand teams, the travel factor, the referees and now the emergence of the Jaguares as a real force is what ensures Super Rugby is still the toughest competition in the game.
Just the pace at which it is played puts it above anything Europe has to offer. All of the above are reasons – along with the serious cash – why the likes of Frans Steyn, Bismarck du Plessis, Pat Lambie and the rest of the local crew moved north.
There have been incessant reports that Erasmus intends picking several of these experienced Boks and others such as Faf de Klerk against Wales and England next month, but should he really?
Let’s look at the possible overseas candidates, with Erasmus saying he has already spoken to five or six of them: Willie le Roux, JP Pietersen, Frans Steyn, Juan de Jongh, Pat Lambie, Faf de Klerk, Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw and Vincent Koch, amongst others.
By all accounts, Le Roux has been in fine form for Wasps in England and won the fans’ player of the year award this week, while De Klerk was the Sale player of the year.
But should that make them automatic Bok choices? Warrick Gelant has been the stand-out SA fullback in Super Rugby, followed closely by Curwin Bosch, while Dillyn Leyds has also impressed when he’s worn the No 15 jersey.
We all know that there has been a scrumhalf problem since the glory days of Fourie du Preez, and in Super Rugby this season, the best SA No 9s have been Ivan van Zyl and Embrose Papier of the Bulls, with Louis Schreuder and Dewaldt Duvenage arguably next best.
De Klerk flattered to deceive in the Bok jersey previously, so I would be more inclined to give Van Zyl and Papier a chance.
And so we can go on. There are more than enough quality centres at home, and the same goes for the loose forwards.
It’s also time for Chiliboy Ralepelle to be given a real chance as a Springbok starter in the absence of Malcolm Marx, instead of bringing back Bismarck du Plessis or Adriaan Strauss.
But will Rassie Erasmus make the same mistake Heyneke Meyer did of picking too many previous stalwarts?