Springboks / 20 July 2019, 12:00pm / Jacques van der Westhuyzen
A new-look and relatively inexperienced Springbok team will get the 2019 Test season under way when they host the Wallabies in the opening Rugby Championship match at Ellis Park this afternoon.
The match-day squad consists of some hardened campaigners, some rookies hoping to make an impression, and others who’ve flown in from Europe.
It is no surprise, then, that coach Rassie Erasmus will be looking for answers on a number of fronts, according to rugby writer Jacques van der Westhuyzen
Has the time together paid off?
We’ve heard all week how well prepared the Boks are for the season ahead, that Erasmus has a good, understandable plan in place and that everyone is on the same page when it comes to what is expected in the matches ahead.
We’ve also heard the Boks cannot be more ready for the Australia match today, having spent three weeks together in camp. Well, the Wallabies have also spent two weeks preparing on the Highveld, so who’s better off? The Boks need to make the most of what they’ve got up to in the last while and play good, clinical rugby, or we could be left asking all sorts of other, unwanted questions.
How will the formerly injured men go?
Pieter-Steph du Toit, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth and Beast Mtawarira are all experienced, key figures in the Bok set-up and in the starting team today.
But they also come off a Super Rugby campaign where they battled against injuries, so they’ll either be fresh, hungry and full of energy, or they’ll be tentative and take a while to get rid of the rust.
The good thing is they all trained well enough in the build-up to today’s match, but Erasmus will still hope they all get through the match without any hiccups. He’ll be desperate to see every member of his team come through unscathed today.
Are the fringe men World Cup class?
Erasmus will have a very good idea of the make-up of his World Cup squad, but there is no doubt some players are on trial over the course of the next few weeks before he names the final 31-man group.
Kwagga Smith, for example, will face his big examination next week against the All Blacks in Wellington, but others like Warrick Gelant, André Esterhuizen, Lizo Gqoboka, Marvin Orie and Dillyn Leyds all have plenty to do today to show they should be considered to go to Japan.
Erasmus has so far rewarded the men who performed well in Super Rugby; do so again now and they could get a tick behind their name.
Can Elton rise to the occasion?
The Lions No10 is probably the most talked about, divisive player in the country - you either rate him highly or not at all.
The reality is he is a stand-out, consistent performer for the Lions, and has been for a very long time. He has also collected 32 Test caps so brings plenty of experience to the national squad.
He has, however, only rarely shown his true potential in the Bok jersey and he’ll again have plenty of critical eyes on him today. Flyhalf is one of the critical positions in rugby and Jantjies simply has to deliver a performance that will allow Erasmus and the coaching team to rest easy when they go to bed this evening.
What about the debutants?
There are three men in the team today who have yet to play Test rugby - scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies, flank Rynhardt Elstadt and replacement prop Lizo Gqoboka. All three deserve their call-up; scrumhalf Jantjies was excellent for the Stormers in Super Rugby, grabbing his opportunity when it came his way, flanker Elstadt was impressive for Toulouse in France, but this is a step-up from club rugby, while loosehead Gqoboka started every game for the Bulls in Super Rugby and scrummed well. They have a chance now to stake a claim for a permanent spot in the team; who will rise to the occasion?
Are the foreign-based men worth their selection?
Erasmus didn’t hesitate to call up 10 men who play their rugby outside SA’s borders, six of whom will be in action today.
Most fans would not have seen much of what they did for their respective Europe-based clubs over the last season, but know what they’re capable of. Elstadt and Francois Louw start today, while coming off the bench and hoping to impress will be prop Vincent Koch, loose-forward Marcell Coetzee, scrumhalf Cobus Reinach and utility man, Frans Steyn.
These men have all delivered the goods for club teams overseas but now need to show Erasmus they can add value.