JOHANNESBURG – A good number of players, and especially those men who’ve come in from abroad, will have to prove to coach Rassie Erasmus they are good enough to play for the Springboks over the course of the next few weeks.
Erasmus made it clear on Wednesday there would be no free passage to the World Cup (in Japan later this year).
And the matches in the shortened Rugby Championship, which gets under way this Saturday when the Boks host Australia at Ellis Park, would serve as a trial for many of the men currently in the Bok squad.
Erasmus has given first Test starts to Toulouse based loose forward Rynhardt Elstadt and Stormers scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies, while probable fringe World Cup hopefuls Warrick Gelant, André Esterhuizen, Francois Louw and replacements Lizo Gqoboka, Marvin Orie and Dillyn Leyds will also hope to impress this weekend.
Four further overseas-based men are on the bench – Montpellier-based Francois Steyn, Cobus Reinach of Northampton, Ulster’s Marcel Coetzee and Saracens’ Vincent Koch, who Erasmus said had to show they’re good enough for Test rugby.
“It’s one thing to do well for your club or franchise – it’s quite another playing Test rugby.
“Rynhardt gets a chance after a quality season in the Top 14, where his team reached the final, but this is Test rugby. He must now show he can make the step up,” said Erasmus.
“I coached him before when we were both at the Stormers so we understand each other, which is a benefit, but this is a very good Wallabies team we’re coming up against.”
Erasmus said Steyn would be considered as an inside centre first and he, too, would have to show he’s still got what it takes to play at Test level.
“I think his best position is inside centre. He’s good at 10 and fullback and his experience cannot be questioned, but he must still prove himself again, too.
“He’s slotted in well at training and he brings calm and leadership to the group, but Test rugby is a step up from the Top 14.”
Erasmus’ team for Saturday’s Test is a good blend of youth and experience, with several seasoned men making up the pack.
Eben Etzebeth will lead the side alongside lock partner Lood de Jager, while the front row is made up by the Test-heavy Tendai Mtawarira, Bongi Mbonambi and Trevor Nyakane.
At the back, Elton Jantjies will be the experienced man between the new scrumhalf and the Test rookie at 12 in Esterhuizen, while the wings and fullback are also still new at Test level.
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Jesse Kriel will lead the back division at 13.
Erasmus said he was excited to see how Gqoboka went at Test level.
“We’re blessed with a number of quality props in South Africa... and guys like Wilco Louw, Coenie Oosthuizen and even the Lions’ Dylan Smith aren’t here, and they all played well in Super Rugby,” said Erasmus.
“But, Lizo started every game for the Bulls, and he performed consistently well throughout the competition. He’s got a good engine on him, is extremely strong and I’m excited to see what he can do at Test level.”
Warrick Gelant, Sbu Nkosi, Jesse Kriel, Andre Esterhuizen, Makazole Mapimpi, Elton Jantjies, Herschel Jantjies, Francois Louw, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Rynhardt Elstadt, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth (captain), Trevor Nyakane, Bongi Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira.
Bench: Schalk Brits, Lizo Gqoboka, Vincent Koch, Marvin Orie, Marcel Coetzee, Cobus Reinach, Frans Steyn, Dillyn Leyds.