DURBAN – In two months’ time, the Springboks open their 2018 account with a friendly against Wales in Washington on June 2. It will be the dawning of the Rassie Erasmus era, and exactly a week later at Ellis Park, the Boks play the first of a three-Test series against England.
Crucially, who will the new Bok coach choose to direct the traffic from the flyhalf position? Rassie already has a rough starting 15 in mind, but there are two months of Super Rugby to go before the June international break.
There is a flurry of local derbies coming up, and it is quite possible that Rassie’s flyhalf pecking order could change should there be consistently good or poor performances from our No 10s.
It is worth noting that Rassie has openly been talking to Racing’s Patrick Lambie regarding his willingness to be involved in the England series, not necessarily as the starting 10, but in some form or another. Maybe it will be flyhalf... you never know, given that two months of intense Super Rugby will inevitably produce injuries.
But two months out from Washington, there is a semblance of a flyhalf ranking taking care of itself on the field of play. Right now, Handre Pollard has the form and the experience to be ranked No 1 contender for that 10 jersey.
He was exceptional against the Stormers at Loftus last week. Most of his professional career, Pollard has been injured, but the curse seems to have lifted and he is now getting game time to play his way into form.
Interestingly, at the 2015 World Cup he was the No 1 flyhalf bar the opening round game against Japan, when he was the back-up to Lambie.
He had a solid tournament under Heyneke Meyer and kicked five penalties in the 20-18 semi-final defeat to the All Blacks. Now, under John Mitchell at the Bulls, he has been tasked with playing a very different type of rugby, and he is relishing the role of marshalling a ball-in-hand approach.
In other words, he is versatile. He can play conservatively or run the ball, as per a coach’s instructions, or according to what a game situation requires.
Elton Jantjies was the first choice under Allister Coetzee, and rightly so, given his Super Rugby form for the Lions. This season he is again showing some nifty touches. But Jantjies never took his chances at international level. Perhaps Rassie believes he can get out of Elton what Allister could not. Whatever the case, Elton deserves to be in the selection frame.
Damian Willemse? We have seen sublime attacking play from the youngster, but also a number of errors.
He needs to remain at 10 for the Stormers and he will get better and better. He is not far off, but Pollard outplayed him last week. I think this is a season too soon for Willemse to start for the Boks, and that Rassie will go for the steady hand of Pollard. It is a question of time, though, before Willemse irons out a few weaknesses in his game and plays his way into the Bok starting line-up.
Finally, Robert du Preez put his hand up at the weekend with a startling 38 points at Eden Park. At this stage he is a rank outsider for the Bok 10 jersey, but he has everything to play for over the next two months.
If he continues to consistently play as well as he did against the Blues, and there are injuries to his flyhalf rivals, he might force himself into the greater selection frame.