New Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus, in his first Test in charge, will want to see his team tick several boxes when they come up against Wales in Washington today.
Jacques van der Westhuyzen discusses five key areas that will be closely watched by the Bok team’s coaching staff...
It’s a cliché, but the reality is everything does all start up front. Even the Lions, who play free-flowing, attack-minded, running rugby, have a solid set-piece. In fact they’ve scored more tries through their driving maul than from any other play in Super Rugby this season.
And Erasmus is no different to every coach in the world - he’ll want his scrums and line-outs to function properly today.
It matters little that the men in action might not play in the first Test against England; it’s currently one big squad of players who’ll have followed the same training drills, and the Boks need to fire from the off. Today’s match is a big opportunity for especially tighthead prop Wilco Louw, loosehead Ox Nche and new lock Jason Jenkins.
Erasmus’s right-hand man, Jacques Nienaber is widely lauded for his defensive coaching skills so every tackle, push and press will be closely watched.
Positioning, alignment and unity in defence is always crucial in applying pressure on the opposition and it will be hoped the Boks in 2018 are as stingy in letting players past them as the Stormers were some years ago when Erasmus and Nienaber were involved in the coaching set-up there.
A strong defence is something the new coach spoke openly about this last week: “We’re scoring tries but leaking too many ourselves,” he said.
They say tackling and defending are attitude things – that reveal one’s character – well, we’ll see what this new-look Bok squad is made of today.
There is no disputing there’s an excitement factor in the back-three that will run out today; Curwin Bosch, Makazole Mapimpi and Travis Ismaiel have plenty of running in them, and skill to bamboozle any defence.
But, it’s one thing showing off your attacking abilities and quite another when you’re working off the ball.
Too often in recent times Bok teams have been found wanting out wide and at the back, with players being caught out of position and unable to field high balls.
These three men today, and those who’ll run out against England over the next month, have simply got to put their bodies on the line and show they’re ready to be the steady rocks at the back.
The No 9
Erasmus has made it clear he is excited about young Bulls scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl, a player with a good pass and an equally strong kick, and this is his time to shine.
The Boks are desperate to find a scrumhalf or two who can nail down their spot in the team and produce quality performances from one match to the next.
Van Zyl and his back-up today, Embrose Papier, must stand tall and take charge, and show their coach they are, indeed, worth investing in.
Faf de Klerk will start against England, but who’ll sit on the bench as his deputy will be determined by who does what against the Welsh. What an opportunity for the two men who’ll be in action in Washington.
It’s somewhat surprising the Boks don’t have a full-time attack coach - perhaps that job is shared by Erasmus and Nienaber - but in the Lions’ Swys de Bruin, who’s acting as a consultant, they have someone in their midst who’s conjured up plenty of magic at Super Rugby level.
Now, can he do it at Test level? With Elton Jantjies at No 10 - a player who knows De Bruin well and is the key decision-maker for the Lions - the Boks might just be on the right track.
What they dish up and how they vary their attacking play - with runarounds and kicks to the wings - will show what type of game the Boks will deliver in the coming months and years under the new coaching team.