JOHANNESBURG – If all goes well, Rassie Erasmus might finally be able to push his preferred first-choice team into action for the first time in 12 Tests this weekend.
With his chosen six overseas-based players now available for Saturday’s Test against France in Paris, and also having Duane Vermeulen back and Warren Whiteley fit, Erasmus’ squad is probably stronger than at any other time this year.
In the June series against England Malcolm Marx, among others, was missing; in the Rugby Championship Vermeulen didn’t play and Whiteley was injured for some time, while last weekend in the first of four Tests on the Boks’ northern hemisphere tour none of the Europe-based Boks were available for selection.
Now, ahead of the France Test, Erasmus is spoilt for choice - even if Beast Mtawarira isn’t available. And what a big selection decision awaits the Bok boss.
His team performed well in many areas at Twickenham last Saturday; they dominated possession and territory, had the better of England in most departments and probably also created more try-scoring chances. Had they capitalised on those opportunities the Boks may have won, and done so comfortably.
Erasmus is almost certain to recall to the starting team the more experienced and dynamic Faf de Klerk and Willie le Roux, now that they are available.
And if the Bok team that played at Loftus Versfeld a few weeks ago was Erasmus’ best at that stage, then it would also not be a surprise if Cheslin Kolbe got a look-in this weekend. He, however, only got a call up during the Rugby Championship because Sbu Nkosi was injured, but the Sharks man is now fit again and enjoyed a good outing against England.
It’s more in the pack where Erasmus has some big, and challenging, calls to make. While Vermeulen, Whiteley and Siya Kolisi performed well enough as a unit against England to warrant another go against France, Erasmus might be tempted to change his loose-trio and lock pairing.
The availability of Franco Mostert (now that he is a Gloucester player) could see him join Eben Etzebeth in the second row, with Pieter-Steph du Toit moving back to blindside flank. That would force Vermeulen to eighthman and Whiteley out of the starting team.