CAPE TOWN – The Springboks under the mentorship of Rassie Erasmus will be looking to retain their upward curve on the international stage when the 2018 Rugby Championship kicks-off against Argentina in Durban on Saturday.
This season there has already been a dramatic improvement as the Boks won the mid-year Incoming Series series against the highly-ranked England. The Boks clinched the series with back-to-back wins in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein.
Admittedly, the England tourists were without several key players but they were nevertheless not push-overs and when the Boks eased up in the dead rubber they were punished 25-10 at Newlands.
The absence of the Stormers, Bulls and later the Sharks at the Super Rugby play-offs presented Erasmus with more time to prepare the squad and he would have found that situation hugely beneficial.
The Lions players would have had to deal with a massive workload leading up the Super Rugby final on August 4. As a result, in the interests of player management, the team for Saturday may run out without Lions players.
After Saturday's Test, the Boks are off to Argentina for the return tie and it's likely the same match-day squad will be on duty.
There might be a strong case to draw Lions flyhalf Elton Jantjies into the frame straight away in view of his loss of form at the business end of the Super Rugby season. Bok coach Erasmus suggests that he views Jantjies as crucial to the Bok cause leading up to the 2019 World Cup.
On their return from Argentina, there will be a week's break before the Boks set off for back-to-back away Tests against Australia and New Zealand in September.
By that time Erasmus would have ensured that he has depth in the squad and the pecking order would have been more or less settled.
It does seem that Erasmus is fairly pleased with the quality of players that are available to him so that he can make progress on three fronts. He wants to win matches, embrace transformation and build depth in the squad.
Of the three considerations, winning Tests is the most significant. Without winning Tests, Erasmus' efforts on the transformation front and building squad depth will be severely hampered.
In addition to being the Bok coach, he also has to fulfil his duties as the country's Director of Rugby.
The next six Tests, starting with Saturday's The Rugby Championship opener in Durban, will show how well Erasmus, who is armed with unprecedented six-year contract, has or has not dealt with this balancing act.
African News Agency (ANA)