Injuries to Warren Whiteley, Eben Etzebeth and Malcom Marx could worsen Rassie Erasmus' selection dilemma. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG - Picking a squad of 35 to 40 players won’t be difficult, but getting to a starting 15 is another - more challenging - matter altogether.

That is the enormous task facing new Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus as the one-off Test against Wales and the three-Test series against England in June creep ever closer.

A week ago the only certainty for a starting role was hooker Malcolm Marx, with every other position having a question mark behind it.

Now not even Marx’s participation is guaranteed after he cried off with an injury at the weekend, the severity of which will be known in days.

But even with a fit Marx in the mix next month, finding the right back-up at No 2 will prove as challenging as finding the right man for every other position.

Erasmus has the difficult task of working out a game-plan and style of rugby that won’t only see the Boks win more than they lose, it’s a brand he’ll know will have to excite the fans to ensure they back him and the team going forward.

That’s the one thing the new coach has to think about at the moment. The other - and more important - job is finding the right players, and that isn’t as easy as one would think.

Yes, there is talent aplenty in this country and abroad, and putting a 40-man squad together won’t prove difficult, but ask 20 or more people who their first-choice XV would be for the first Test against England in a month’s time and you won’t get two teams that look the same.

It doesn’t matter who Erasmus backs for that opener against Eddie Jones’ England, he’s going to take flak about his selection from somewhere, if not everywhere.

His dilemma is this; he has to pick form players, but he also needs experience, and many of those experienced players are plying their trade abroad. There are injuries to key men right now, like Warren Whiteley and Eben Etzebeth, even though the first-choice Bok skipper may recover in a few weeks’ time, but will he be match fit?

Erasmus also has to keep all sectors of our country satisfied and happy, and on top of that he will be expected to win from the off.

Springbok hooker Malcolm Marx, second from right, has retuned to South Africa after suffering an injury on tour. Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix
Springbok hooker Malcolm Marx, second from right, has retuned to South Africa after suffering an injury on tour. Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

Erasmus might have an idea what his strongest Bok team looks like, but there must be some doubt, too. Does he bring back from overseas Bismarck du Plessis (if he’s available) or does he ask Adriaan Strauss to come out of international retirement or does he go with a hooker with little experience?

Does he involve Faf de Klerk, who is based in Manchester at Sale Sharks ahead of a young local player. Does he bring back veteran Frans Steyn or does he back Damian de Allende to finally come good at Test level? And what about the powerful Sharks man Andre Esterhuizen?

The creative Willie le Roux has also been talked about as a possible returnee, to play at fullback or wing, but then what about Warrick Gelant, Travis Ismaiel, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Makazole Mapimpi, S’bu Nkosi, Madosh Tambwe ... all excellent so far in Super Rugby, but without a Test cap behind them.

Who really is best suited to wear the Bok No 10? Is it Handre Pollard, Elton Jantjies, Damian Willemse or Rob du Preez? The last two men named here look more the part as the season progresses.

Among the locks RG Snyman and Lood de Jager are the in-form men, but Pieter-Steph du Toit has been outstanding, too, this season, so good luck to Erasmus. And what about the props: is Beast Mtawarira still the best loosehead, and will he be picked ahead of the dynamic Steven Kitshoff, while not forgetting the Cheetahs’ Ox Nche? And at tighthead, is Wilco Louw the answer, or Thomas du Toit, or Trevor Nyakane.

And then there’s the loose-trio - probably the most debated and argued about department of all. Is there a spot for Duane Vermeulen, is Siya Kolisi a six or seven, is Jean-Luc du Preez guaranteed a spot, and what about Roelof Smit, Sikumbhuzo Notshe, Kwagga Smith, Dan du Preez, Cyle Brink ... and Whiteley?

Who’d want to be Erasmus? His job is a big one, a difficult one.

The Star

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