CAPE TOWN – We are way past the point where change in certain positions in the Springbok team would simply be ideal. Right now, it’s needed.
In the Boks’ 26-3 quarter-final win against Japan on Sunday, there were again a number of issues in terms of player personnel and individual performances. In the first half in Tokyo, the Boks were far from perfect when it came to execution and finishing. They had their chances and blew at least three scoring opportunities before the break so, naturally, there were a number of players who would have aimed to be sharper in the second 40.
But throughout the match, Willie le Roux’s performance at fullback was again subpar, not just in the first half, and it’s something that has become expected rather than uncharacteristic in 2019. At the weekend, he dropped a simple pass when the Boks had ample space on the outside, and in the second half, he wasted another try-scoring chance when he butchered a pass.
As bad as those mistakes were, they are far from the only ones we have seen from Le Roux while with the Boks this season.
Good moments from him have been in isolation until now, and it’s time for coach Rassie Erasmus to make a few bold calls as they prepare for their semi-final clash against Wales.
It’s hard to imagine Erasmus making any big changes ahead of a semi-final, after all, it’s the World Cup, and the guys he has in certain jumpers have been part of his plans and preparations for more than a year now.
But are those good enough reasons to stick with something that clearly isn’t working?
Throughout the pool stages, halfbacks Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard haven’t made the headlines for all the right reasons either. While De Klerk was named Man of the Match after their contest against the Brave Blossoms, he didn’t produce a superb outing overall, although his defence and the role he played in slowing down Japan’s ball were commendable.
Pollard isn’t the key decision-maker in that Bok backline, that we can all see, but apart from that, his latest performance wasn’t overwhelmingly impressive, and that’s been the case the entire time while in Japan.
‘“Madness’” however, would be the reaction if Erasmus were to change his halfback pairing, understandably so. It would be a massive call. But at fullback, it’s a call he can afford to make.
Giving Cheslin Kolbe the No 15 jersey would be far from bizarre, it would be smart. Kolbe played there before he took up the wing duties under Erasmus, and he has been one of the most important figures in this Bok team. A move to fullback for Kolbe would also open up a spot on the right wing for the dangerous Sbu Nkosi. So why should he continuously be left out while he could be accommodated at the expense of a player who is desperately out of form?
Also, while it would be a questionable move changing both your scrumhalf and flyhalf, bringing Herschel Jantjies in wouldn’t. His execution has been all kinds of levels above De Klerk’s. Besides, he has shown that he is not just one for the small stage.
Making a number of changes at this stage of a World Cup will never come without risk, but I don’t think that should be reason enough to persist with something that could cost you anyway. That’s a risk as well.
My Springboks matchday 23:
Starting XV: 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, Hershel Jantjies, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Franco Mostert, 21 Francois Louw, 22 Faf de Klerk, 23 Frans Steyn.