Usually, it’s a win-at-all-costs approach for Springbok coaches.
Every Test match must be won, whether it’s against the All Blacks or Japan.
But Rassie Erasmus won some breathing space with the 36-34 triumph over New Zealand in Wellington. And in any case, he has stated that the Tests over the next 12 months are about building a squad for the World Cup.
That is why it was encouraging to see him hand Sikhumbuzo Notshe his first start for Saturday’s Wallaby Test in Port Elizabeth.
Notshe was lively when he came on against England in June, but apart from a few Currie Cup matches for Western Province, he has been on the sidelines.
Now he gets his big chance due to Warren Whiteley’s groin issue this week, and he has to make it count if he wants to be a serious World Cup contender.
Notshe is at his best with ball-in-hand due to his tremendous speed for a loose forward, and he has shown a refreshing penchant for getting involved in the “rough stuff” as well.
But while Erasmus is perennially between a rock and a hard place with regards to public pressure to win, he could’ve been braver in his selection for the Wallaby Test.
A real problem area has been outside centre, and just when it looked like Lukhanyo Am had sealed that spot, he got injured at the Westpac Stadium and is hoping to be fit for the end-of-year tour.
Jesse Kriel has played 34 Tests since 2015, with 31 of those at No 13. While his speed in scrambling to make cover tackles has been valuable, he still battles to organise the backline defence, and his passing game has been problematic.
Lionel Mapoe is a classical outside centre – he can beat his opposite number, he has the pace and power, and actually scored two tries the last time he featured for the Boks: as a wing replacement for Makazole Mapimpi against Argentina in Mendoza.
Strangely, he was left out of the tour squad to Australia and New Zealand. Erasmus recalled the 30-year-old Golden Lions midfielder for the last two Rugby Championship games, but Mapoe missed out this week.
Getting a start against Australia and a tough centre in Reece Hodge would’ve been an ideal evaluation of Mapoe’s abilities, but now we will never know.
The same could be said of Damian Willemse. The WP wunderkind lined up at fullback in the Currie Cup last week, and although it was only Griquas, he turned on the heat from the back – coming into the line and creating havoc.
This was all part of a supposed plan for him to start at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, but now that Willie le Roux was suddenly declared available again after it was initially stated that he will remain with Wasps in England, Willemse has to play off the bench.
Le Roux has been in fine form, but he has also travelled extensively and played non-stop in recent weeks – from Johannesburg to Brisbane and Wellington, then back to the UK, and now he’s in Port Elizabeth.
A breather would’ve done him good ahead of next week’s showdown with the All Blacks in Pretoria, and it would’ve given Willemse an opportunity to strut his stuff at No 15.
Erasmus also had a difficult call to make with Handre Pollard, but he did the right thing in keeping him at flyhalf instead of moving him to inside centre.
Pollard must play at No 10 if the coach views him as the first-choice pivot, although Elton Jantjies is also unlucky to stay on the bench after an impressive display in Brisbane and as a second-half substitute in Wellington.
15 Willie le Roux 14 Cheslin Kolbe 13 Jesse Kriel 12 André Esterhuizen 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi 10 Handre Pollard 9 Faf de Klerk 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit 6 Siya Kolisi (captain) 5 Franco Mostert 4 Eben Etzebeth 3 Frans Malherbe 2 Malcolm Marx 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Bench: 16 Bongi Mbonambi 17 Steven Kitshoff 18 Wilco Louw 19 RG Snyman 20 Marco van Staden 21 Embrose Papier 22 Elton Jantjies 23 Damian Willemse.