Should Rassie persist with out-of-form Willie and Faf's incessant kicking?
JOHANNESBURG – Must Springbok boss Rassie Erasmus continue with the horribly out of form fullback Willie le Roux and why, oh why, is Faf de Klerk kicking so much ball away?
Those are the two biggest questions that have been asked in the wake of the Boks’ victory over Japan on Sunday and ahead of this weekend’s Rugby World Cup semi-final clash with Wales.
Le Roux hasn’t had a good World Cup and Erasmus has surely considered making a change at fullback. Whether he does so now, at this late stage of the tournament, is unlikely, but if it were up to me, I’d bring in Damian Willemse.
The problem with Le Roux is he is down on confidence – and he’s very much a confidence player. He’s unsure of himself under the high ball and he also doesn’t join the backline as much as he once did, or often enough to keep the opposition guessing. He’s probably playing under instruction, but even so, right now Le Roux isn’t producing the goods at 15.
Willemse, having joined the squad in place of the injured Jesse Kriel, was hungry to get stuck in when he played against Canada and is comfortable at fullback and as an extra flyhalf option when the Boks have an attacking option in the middle of the field. He’s also solid under the high ball and generally very reliable in defence. The rookie also offers the team something different when he’s got ball in hand.
And despite many having a go at De Klerk and his almost never-ending box-kicking, I’d still play him. He’s tenacious and he gets around the field to make plenty of tackles; let’s just hope Erasmus allows him to play a little more.
Up front I’d bring in the towering lock RG Snyman for Eben Etzebeth, who hasn’t had the most impactful World Cup. Etzebeth has played well in patches, but he’s been off his best and I believe Snyman is itching to get a start.
The Bulls man is just as good a lineout jumper as Etzebeth, and he also hits rucks hard, stands back for no-one and carries strongly, but where he trumps his now veteran team-mate is his mobility and off-loading game. Snyman is quick for a big lock forward and he’s also got surprisingly good hands; his inclusion in the starting team would be a boost to the side.
I’d stick with Bongi Mbonambi at hooker despite Malcolm Marx’s good showing off the bench last weekend, while among the replacements I’d also make one change, besides Etzebeth swapping places with Snyman. So far, the six-two bench split has worked out for Erasmus, and with the inclusion of Willemse at 15, I’d be happy to continue in this vein.
Bringing the dynamic and speedy Kwagga Smith in for Francois Louw would give the Boks something different from off the bench – a forward player with pace, skills and vision, and very different to the predictable and fairly one-dimensional bash-it-up players Erasmus favours.
Willemse and Snyman coming into the starting team and Smith filling a spot on the bench would just make Wales think a little differently about what the Boks will bring to the contest on Sunday. The conservative Erasmus though is unlikely to tinker with the 23 that did duty against Japan.
My Bok match-23:
Damian Willemse, Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk, Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi, Lood de Jager, RG Snyman, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Vincent Koch, Steven Kitshoff, Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert, Kwagga Smith, Herschel Jantjies, Frans Steyn@jacq_west