Springboks / 27 August 2019, 12:20pm / Jacques van der Westhuyzen
JOHANNESBURG – Rassie Erasmus cast his net wide and what he has been left with is a group of 31 players who are without question good enough to work together as a team and win the World Cup in Japan later this year.
Erasmus has stayed true to his word and rewarded the men who’ve played consistently well and delivered for him and the Springboks.
He has been open and honest with the players and with South African rugby fans and the squad that will depart for Japan later this week will be a settled, confident, happy unit.
After finding his feet in his first year in charge last year, Erasmus took a few giant leaps forward in 2019.
He knew exactly who would run out against who in the shortened Rugby Championship, and in the one-off Test against Argentina, he sent players ahead to other countries, to train and acclimatise, and he got his rewards.
The Boks who will head to Japan have in the space of two years regained their reputation as one of the best in the game and one of the teams to beat at the World Cup.
The squad picked is a good mix of youth and experience, but it is not a perfect squad.
It is a pity Warren Whiteley, Damian Willemse and Aphiwe Dyantyi weren’t really in the running because of injuries this year, while it is also disappointing the Du Preez twins, Dan and Jean-Luc, who were standout players in Super Rugby, didn’t get a look in.
Inside centre has been a somewhat problematic area for some time and one wonders what a player like Jan Serfontein could have brought to the mix had he been fit and got his chance.
Also, I feel Curwin Bosch should have got a proper opportunity to show off his talents; he could just as easily have been the back-up at fullback and flyhalf.
At the back, the only question mark really revolves around Frans Steyn, the inside centre back-up to Damian de Allende, but a player who also covers flyhalf and fullback.
While there is no doubting Steyn’s history, his skills and abilities as a rugby player, he will go to the World Cup not having played a lot of rugby.
Why Erasmus didn’t start him in any Tests this year is a mystery. He showed flashes of his power and general rugby instincts from off the bench, but what did Steyn really do to warrant a place in the final squad? Does Erasmus know what he brings to the team?
In the forwards Erasmus has picked power-players and there are no obvious weaknesses. The competition for starting places will be fierce - as it should be - and will hopefully bring out the best in every man.
Kwagga Smith’s selection will be seen as a surprise in some quarters, especially after he played only the season-opening Test in Washington against Wales last year before only getting picked again this year.
But he is a player in the same mould as Franco Mostert and Pieter-Steph du Toit; he has no stop button and grinds away for as long as is needed and required. He does plenty of dirty work, especially in defence, while his pace and handling skills give him an edge with ball in hand.
Key men for me, as is always the case, will be those in the spine: Willie le Roux at fullback, Handre Pollard at 10, Faf de Klerk or Herschel Jantjies at scrumhalf, Duane Vermeulen at eight, and either Malcolm Marx or Bongi Mbonambi at hooker.
If they all fire like we know they can, the Boks will be hard to beat in Japan later this year.