CAPE TOWN - There were quite a few debates in terms of selections and combinations ahead of the Springboks’ Rugby Championship match against Australia tomorrow (5.05pm kickoff).
Having won their Wellington battle against the All Blacks in thrilling fashion, the pressure that surrounded Rassie Erasmus and his Boks a few weeks ago, following disappointing outings against the Wallabies in Brisbane and Argentina in Mendoza, certainly isn’t as tangible anymore. But tomorrow’s fixture is still an important one, both in terms of confidence and the Rugby Championship standings.
There were a few surprises when Erasmus announced his team in Port Elizabeth yesterday. Sikhumbuzo Notshe will get his first real chance to prove himself at Test level when he starts at No 8 in the place of Warren Whiteley, who sustained a groin injury earlier in the week.
While it will be Notshe’s first start for the Boks, he has impressed in his stints off the bench. But a run-on opportunity for the loose forward - in his preferred position - will give him a real opportunity, and it’s certainly something that deserves to be looked at. “Notshe did very well in the role of impact player during the English series” Erasmus said. “He has kept on working hard and he deserves his opportunity in the starting team.”
Cheslin Kolbe is the other player who will get his first start for the Boks at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. His intercept try against New Zealand was just a glimpse of what he can do, and while Rieko Ioane got around him once, the way Kolbe drove the Kiwi wing into touch later on in a crucial moment showed his punch.
The other “new” face in the team is Tendai Mtawarira, who returns at loosehead prop in a straight swop, although Steven Kitshoff, who’ll provide cover off the bench, was massive against the All Blacks, and Kitshoff might be a player Erasmus will have another look at next week.
As anticipated about a week ago when Willie le Roux was expected to miss the remaining two games, Damian Willemse won’t be getting that start at No 15. Instead, Erasmus has named him among the replacements.
A start for Willemse could have been beneficial taking into account that that’s where Erasmus wants to blood him. And this weekend’s challenge can of course be expected to be a “lighter” one than the one that awaits next weekend. It can perhaps be seen as Erasmus’ last real chance to experiment this season.
Erasmus also decided not to test the Elton Jantjies/Handre Pollard combination at flyhalf and inside centre, as Andre Esterhuizen and Jesse Kriel will cover midfield following injuries to Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am.
South Africa team: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Damian Willemse.
Australia team: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Izack Rodda, 4 Adam Coleman, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Scott Sio. Replacements: 16 Folau Faingaa, 17 Sekope Kepu, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Rory Arnold, 20 Rob Simmons, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Bernard Foley, 23 Jack Maddocks.