DURBAN – At the beginning of Test week in Durban, Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus said his job is one of balancing winning, and building a squad that can take the Springboks to World Cup glory next year in Japan.
At the weekend, he got the winning right, but admits he is still tinkering with his team.
What it means, heading to Argentina, is that he can make a few changes for the Test match in Mendoza. However, while some will label it experimenting, the coach is not calling it that at all.
Erasmus was frank at the post-match presentation, saying he felt that although the Boks fronted up physically, they were far from perfect.
“They know what we’re about now and we’ll make a few changes to the team,” Erasmus said in preparation for what will be a tougher match away from home - adding that there would be about “four or five changes.”
“We’re expecting a massive physical onslaught; they are fuming. They have always been tough there, but we got five points out of that game. It was not the most beautiful and perfect game, but we’re well in it. Going there I don’t think we have the luxury of experimenting.”
Erasmus did spell out some of the reasons for this less than “fluent” showing in Durban, explaining that his players have all come into the squad from different places.
“Francois Louw only had a pre-season, while Faf de Klerk also only had a pre-season and has not played for a while,” Erasmus said. “Damian Willemse came back from a six-week knee injury and the same with Eben Etzebeth.
“I wasn't expecting a fluent display, but it was worse than I thought in the first half. We lost a few line-outs that were crucial and there were some technical errors, but for all of that, it was a dominant performance. It wasn’t the most crisp performance. Technically and tactically we weren’t on par. Luckily, Siya Kolisi and the boys fixed it at half-time.
“I think we got dragged into the pace that the Pumas played. We got sucked in and struggled to switch it on until the second half, and then we were really better.”
Some of the changes Erasmus could be mulling over is giving his newly capped duo off the bench more starring roles in Mendoza. Both Marco van Staden and Damian Willemse made their appearance on the world stage but need more time to be truly judged on their ability to take this step up.
Erasmus has spoken recently about playing Van Staden and Louw, two specialist opensiders, in the same loose trio.
“There were a few hiccups with the loose trio, but I think it’s a combination that has a good future. We have some good options at the moment if you remember that Duane Vermeulen will return and Cyle Brink will return in future from injury.
“We can add some bulk to the back row in future if the situation demands it. However, there will be times, as was the case in this game, when you need speed in your back row. That speed helped us on this occasion.”
Willemse also came on at flyhalf despite Erasmus wanting him to get a taste of No 15.
“I wanted to get Damian on at 15, but the game was too tight. I also felt that Willie le Roux was the senior guy in the back three and that he was doing well there. It may have been too risky to take him off at that stage.”
The touring squad to travel to Argentina has been trimmed to 28 with three forwards, Jean-Luc du Preez, Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Marvin Orie, dropping away. Uncapped flanker Cyle Brink underwent surgery earlier in the week to repair damage suffered to his injured knee.
Ross Cronje, Jesse Kriel and Lwazi Mvovo are the three backs not travelling over to South America.