While England coach Eddie Jones is dealing with a massive injury crisis, with around 15 players out, Springbok counterpart Rassie Erasmus has some tough selection choices to make for Saturday’s tour opener at Twickenham.
Yes, the Bok boss is also missing the likes of Faf de Klerk (whole tour), Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Francois Louw and Franco Mostert (this week only).
But Erasmus must make some big calls in the hope that he will pick the right team to emerge victorious on Saturday (5pm SA time kickoff).
Must Pieter-Steph du Toit stick to flank, or should he move to lock? Who should start at No 8 between Warren Whiteley, Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Duane Vermeulen?
Maybe Vermeulen must play at No 7 flank? What’s the best front row?
Another fascinating call will be at halfback, where Handré Pollard and Ivan van Zyl are favourites, but Elton Jantjies and Embrose Papier also have strong claims.
Erasmus will announce his team at 4pm SA time on Thursday, but we’ve made up our mind (from the squad selected for the tour)…
15 Damian Willemse: It’s now or never for the Western Province star. We know what Gio Aplon can do, but Willemse was messed around by WP coach John Dobson at inside centre. Rassie Erasmus sees him settling into Test rugby at fullback before he goes to flyhalf. What better Test than England at Twickenham in November to see if he is up for it?
14 Sbu Nkosi: The Sharks flyer is back at full tilt, and following his exploits earlier in the international season, he is the best bet at No 14, seeing that Cheslin Kolbe is not available this week.
13 Jesse Kriel: It is a real pity that Lukhanyo Am is not ready to play in the first two Tests of this tour, but it allows Kriel to prove that the second half of the Loftus Test against the All Blacks wasn’t a fluke.
12 Handré Pollard: Okay, don’t laugh. This is serious business. Damian de Allende and André Esterhuizen haven’t really set the world alight at No 12 this year. So, why not see what Pollard can offer from the start? It worked a charm in the second half in Wellington, when De Allende went off injured. Another big boot, and his passing ability, would be a boon for a Bok backline with danger men out wide.
11 Aphiwe Dyantyi: World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year nominee, six tries in nine Tests – says it all really.
10 Elton Jantjies: Now here’s the big selection. Jantjies was excellent in the Wallaby Test in Brisbane, and the Boks were ahead when he left the field. He was really unlucky to miss out on a start in Wellington, but played a crucial role anyway in the second half. Will bring the necessary spark to the backline on attack in particular.
9 Embrose Papier: Similar story to Willemse. But he has even more of a case to start, as he has been gathering splinters on the bench for most of the year behind Faf de Klerk. We all know he’s got the talent, so let’s see it in action.
8 Warren Whiteley: Whiteley missed the last two Rugby Championship Tests due to injury, but was back for the Lions Currie Cup semi-final against the Sharks. His work-rate will be crucial on defence, while he must pull off those silky touches to get the attack going.
7 Duane Vermeulen: For me, blindside flank has always been Vermeulen’s best position. It takes away the worry about his lack of pace for a No 8, while giving him enough scope to dish out those big tackles and carries. Of course, he is also a strong lineout option.
“I am really excited to be back and its always so special to be part of the Springboks,” said Vermeulen. If I do get the opportunity to play on Saturday, I am looking forward to getting stuck in," said @duane_vermeulen pic.twitter.com/RTEPISw9P4— South African Rugby (@Springboks) October 30, 2018
6 Siya Kolisi (captain): Hopefully the short break would’ve been enough to recharge the skipper’s batteries, as Kolisi has shouldered a lot of the defence and breakdown work with Pieter-Steph du Toit. Having Vermeulen back will relieve some pressure defensively, and allow Kolisi to carry the ball a bit more.
5 Pieter-Steph du Toit: Again, Du Toit is a lock, despite his strong showings at No 7 this year. He is an athletic lock, whereas he is a slowish flank. He punches bigger holes in the opposition with ball-in-hand and tackling compared to Franco Mostert. Must ran the lineout show with great efficiency.
4 Eben Etzebeth: Etzebeth is behind Brodie Retallick in the No 4 world pecking order, but he needs to keep producing and expanding on his game to keep the talented RG Snyman at bay. More of those offloads that we saw at Loftus Versfeld, please…
3 Wilco Louw: The WP No 3 is a destructive scrummager who simply has to start ahead of Frans Malherbe and Thomas du Toit. Louw will win penalties, and put in an honest shift around the field.
2 Malcolm Marx: His work at the breakdowns is undoubted, and he makes his carries and tackles. But Marx cannot afford any lineout lapses if the Boks are hoping to secure front-foot ball for the backs.
1 Steven Kitshoff: Best loosehead in the Rugby Championship, and will want to prove that he has applied what he learnt in French club rugby on this tour.
Bench: Bongi Mbonambi, Trevor Nyakane, Thomas du Toit, RG Snyman, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Ivan van Zyl, Damian de Allende, Gio Aplon.
Springbok Tour Squad
Backs: Willie le Roux*, Gio Aplon, Damian Willemse, Sergeal Petersen, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Sbu Nkosi, Cheslin Kolbe*, Jesse Kriel, Ruhan Nel, Damian de Allende, André Esterhuizen, Handré Pollard, Elton Jantjies, Embrose Papier, Ivan van Zyl, Louis Schreuder.
Forwards: Warren Whiteley, Duane Vermeulen, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Francois Louw*, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (captain), Franco Mostert*, Lood de Jager, RG Snyman, JD Schickerling, Eben Etzebeth, Thomas du Toit, Vincent Koch*, Wilco Louw, Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Trevor Nyakane, Schalk Brits, Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi.
* Not available for England Test.@ashfakmohamed