New Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus will name an exciting, new-look Bok team today that should be good enough to beat England in the first of three Tests in Johannesburg this weekend, but it will be some way off the strongest side he can push into action.
No less than six first-choice players didn’t make the squad for the June Tests because of injury, while two more veterans Erasmus was banking on to boost the side’s depth withdrew from the squad and series yesterday. Experienced Test players Jan Serfontein, Warren Whiteley, Jaco Kriel, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth and Malcolm Marx aren’t in the squad for the series, while yesterday veteran stars Frans Steyn and Bismarck du Plessis - who were initially named in the squad – withdrew from the series citing injuries. Both, however, played for Montpellier in last weekend’s Top 14 final against Castres.
And in a potential further blow, it appears as if the front row Erasmus wanted to put out against England at Ellis Park on Saturday may now also not materialise. It is understood that tighthead prop Trevor Nyakane picked up a rib injury this week and is in a race to be fit for Saturday.
If the Bulls man is ruled out, it is expected that Wilco Louw, who played at No 3 against Wales in Washington DC last weekend, will join hooker Bongi Mbonambi and Tendai Mtawarira in the front row on Saturday. While Louw may be a stronger scrummager, Nyakane offers his team more around the field in general play.
The other tighthead options in the group are Thomas du Toit, who has only recently converted from the loosehead side, and Frans Malherbe, an experienced and strong scrummager but who has not played a lot of rugby in recent weeks. The one prop Erasmus was hoping to get back from England for this series was former Stormers man Vincent Koch, who now turns out for Saracens, but he is also injured and unavailable for the Boks.
Erasmus is set to name his team today for Saturday’s Test, and all three of his remaining choices from abroad - fullback Willie le Roux, scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and No 9 Duane Vermeulen – are due to be named in the starting team. Rookie wings Aphiwe Dyantyi and S’bu Nkosi are expected to earn their first starts for the Boks, and so too lock RG Snyman, who will be required to fill a role in the second row similar to that of Bakkies Botha.
The midfielders will be in-form Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am despite the good showing by Andre Esterhuizen against Wales last weekend. Erasmus made it clear this week that the men who didn’t travel to the United States would all be in the mix this weekend - all of them seemingly as starters. The make-up of the bench could see exciting game-breakers such as Akker van der Merwe, Steven Kitshoff, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Warrick Gelant get a look-in.
Probable team: Willie le Roux, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, S’bu Nkosi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk, Duane Vermeulen, Jean-Luc du Preez, Siya Kolisi, Franco Mostert, RG Snyman, Wilco Louw, Bongi Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: Akker van der Merwe, Steven Kitshoff, Thomas du Toit, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Ivan van Zyl, Elton Jantjies, Warrick Gelant