JOHANNESBURG - If the Springboks are to have any chance of upsetting the All Blacks in Wellington this Saturday, coach Rassie Erasmus is going to have to get his team make-up spot on. His selections will be crucial this week, starting with his loose-trio.
And, perhaps it is the surprise choice of Bulls man Marco van Staden which could just do the trick for the under-firing Boks. It is a match where the odds are heavily stacked against Erasmus and his men, with not too many observers prepared to give the tourists a chance. And that is why the inclusion of Van Staden, at openside or even No 8, could prove a master-stroke.
Either way, Erasmus needs to shake up his back-row, who have failed to perform at the standard expected so far in this Rugby Championship. Last weekend’s trio - captain Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Warren Whiteley - did nothing against the Wallabies to make one think they are the answer going forward, and will be up to the task of neutralising the All Blacks threat.
The reality though is not even Erasmus, it seems, has an idea who to play in his back-row, such has been the merry-go-round in the department this season. Duane Vermeulen, who starred in the June Tests against England, is the only certainty in a first-choice loose-trio, but he is unavailable because of injury and is currently in Japan anyway.
Whiteley, who’s come in for the big No 8, hasn’t fired at all up until now and should count himself lucky if he makes the starting team to face the All Blacks this weekend. And Kolisi, irrespective of being the captain, has also got to up his game. It hasn’t helped his cause that Erasmus has employed him as both a “fetcher” six and “ball-carrying” seven up to now, not allowing the man to settle in any position.
Francois Louw has been in and out since joining the squad for the Rugby Championship and Du Toit has been used at lock and flank, while the injured Jean-Luc du Preez is unavailable. Sikhumbuzo Notshe has also been used from the bench, but has not featured in the Rugby Championship.
Erasmus has a big decision to make before going out to tackle the All Blacks, who look settled in the back row with Kieran Read set to lead the side at No 8. Sam Cane is fit again and will come into consideration and challenge for a starting spot with the likes of Liam Squire, Ardie Savea, Shannon Frizell and Luke Whitelock.
Will Kolisi play six or seven this week and who’ll be the other flank - Du Toit or one of Louw or Van Staden? And will Whiteley get the chop for Notshe, or Louw, or even Van Staden?
And is there any chance of Erasmus complicating matters further with a surprise pick of Franco Mostert at seven - where he played regularly for the Lions in Super Rugby - and moving Du Toit back to lock?
Erasmus is in a Catch-22; he desperately needs continuity, but he also needs a firing loose-trio. Kolisi teaming up with the breakd-own specialist Van Staden and one of Notshe or Louw this week might just be the route Erasmus takes.