DURBAN – There is something of the good, the bad and the ugly about the Springbok team that Rassie Erasmus has selected for the resumption of battle with England at Twickenham tomorrow (5pm kickoff).
There are seven changes to the team that was pipped by New Zealand in Pretoria, most of them necessitated by the unavailability of European-based players, but some also do not appear to be necessary.
Duane Vermeulen for instance is back in the team after a four-month absence but not at No 8, the position in which he wreaked havoc against the England team in June.
The 32-year-old is instead picked on the blindside flank, a position he has never played in his 42 Tests for South Africa.
England will be pleased that he is playing out of position.
The probable rationale behind picking Vermeulen as a ball-carrying flank instead of at No 8 (where he has started every one of his tests) is that Erasmus feels he needs to move Pieter-Steph du Toit back to lock to fill the Franco Mostert void.
This is a pity because Du Toit played brilliantly in the No 7 jersey in the Rugby Championship, making more tackles than any other player in the competition. Now his wings will be clipped in the second row.
Erasmus could have slotted RG Snyman in alongside Eben Etzebeth even if the coach thinks the young Bull player is more of a No 4 lock, and that he and Etzebeth would be too similar.
I don’t buy that.
Also, the balance of the loose trio looks a bit cock-eyed now with Warren Whiteley returning to the side at No 8. With captain Kolisi and Whiteley both in the same loose trio, it looks a bit lightweight for the bruising battle that is guaranteed when the Boks play England, especially in the heavier conditions of Twickenham.
Francois Louw played No 8 against the All Blacks and with him unavailable this week, why not simply put Vermeulen in his place and keep the same flanks, with Snyman in at lock?
At scrumhalf, Erasmus is painting himself into a corner by “dropping” Embrose Papier, who did bench duty in the Rugby Championship and who finished the last Test match against New Zealand. Now Papier has been leap-frogged by his Bulls teammate Ivan van Zyl.
Van Zyl is probably the better tactical kicker, and with that being a strong element of the game in the northern hemisphere, it is likely to have swayed the vote in his direction. But what message does this send to Papier, who must be feeling that the coach does not trust him?
The backline has a comfortable look to it. Cheslin Kolbe did solid duty on the wing in the Rugby Championship but with him being out of the picture for this game, Sbu Nkosi makes a welcome return to the right wing. He exploded onto the international scene against England in June and his cocky, muscular approach to wing play will add an edge to the backline.
With Willie le Roux indisposed, Damian Willemse gets a great opportunity to show what he can do.
The fullback position at a freezing Twickenham can be a lonely place, particularly when the aerial bombs start raining down, but the young Willense has shown himself to be fearless. He is also a stronger defender than Le Roux.
The Springboks team is:
15 Damian Willemse, 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Duane Vermeulen, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Lood de Jager, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 André Esterhuizen.
The England team is:
15 Elliot Daly, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell (co-c), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Mark Wilson, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Brad Shields, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Dylan Hartley (co-c), 1 Alec Hepburn.
Subs: 16 Jamie George, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 Zach Mercer, 21 Danny Care, 22 George Ford, 23 Manu Tuilagi.