BLOEMFONTEIN - South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus could break with sporting tradition Thursday and change a winning team for the second Test against England in Bloemfontein this weekend.
The Springboks won a thriller 42-39 in Johannesburg last weekend and another victory this Saturday at the Free State Stadium would clinch the three-Test series. Erasmus has been dropping hints that there could be a few changes, partly because of fatigue and also to give other strong candidates a chance to star.
The changes are most likely to be at tighthead prop, lock or loose forward and inside centre as South Africa seek to maintain an unbeaten home series record against England. "Look, it is tempting to stick with the same guys who played last weekend to give us our best chance of winning this Saturday," Erasmus told reporters in central city Bloemfontein.
"However, we also have to try a few things. We only have 16 matches left until the Rugby World Cup in Japan next year. You do not want to be trying things out away to New Zealand or Australia or Argentina. We will take things one week at a time, but there will be one or two or three subtle changes, nothing major. The World Cup is just over a year away and we have to see how certain guys perform in a Test situation."
Erasmus admitted that tighthead prop Wilco Louw is tired after Super Rugby, the one-off Test against Wales in Washington and the clash with England in Johannesburg. "Just look at the number of minutes Wilco has played with the Stormers and Springboks this year, look at the amount of travelling he has done," he said. "He flew to and from Washington and then he started in Johannesburg. Wilco has played over a thousand minutes this season. He is a little punch-drunk right now."
Unless Erasmus has a late change of mind, Thomas du Toit, popularly known as "The Tank" because of his 120 kilogram-plus physique, will start in the number three shirt. Pieter-Steph du Toit, who has enjoyed an outstanding Super Rugby campaign, skippered the Springboks in the 22-20 defeat by Wales and came off the bench against England.
He can play lock or loose forward, allowing him to possibly start in place of either Franco Mostert in the second row or Jean-Luc du Preez in the back row. Inside centre Andre Esterhuizen was one of the few Springboks to leave Washington with their reputation enhanced after a scrappy affair with wet, humid conditions not helping.
He could be drafted in at the expense of Damian de Allende to partner outside centre Lukhanyo Am in midfield. South Africa have won three series against England in the republic and drawn the other two.
The last time the teams met in Bloemfontein, South Africa triumphed 58-10 in 2007, a record winning margin over England. England coach Eddie Jones will name his team Thursday in Durban, where the Red Rose are based for a tour which concludes with a Test in Cape Town next Saturday.