New Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus has stated there will be a few surprises in his first squad, set to be named tonight.
A group of 40 players will be picked to prepare for the one-off Test against Wales in the US next week and for the first of three Tests against England that follows.
Vata Ngobeni (backs) and Jacques van der Westhuyzen (forwards) discuss the men who could be viewed as the surprise packages in Erasmus’s squad
There’s been enough players who have put up their hands and will certainly make good of the form they’ve shown in Super Rugby.
At the same time Erasmus sits with a serious conundrum at scrumhalf which will leave him with no option but to call on Sale Sharks halfback Faf de Klerk as his number one.
Then it is a race on who will deputise for De Klerk between Louis Schreuder and Ross Cronjé with an outside chance that Sharks scrumhalf Cameron Wright might be the surprise inclusion in the greater squad.
While Handré Pollard and Elton Jantjies are almost certain to battle it out for the number 10 jersey, there could be a temptation for Erasmus to grow his stocks at flyhalf with Curwin Bosch being able to cover both flyhalf and fullback.
But it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see the name of one Robert du Preez for the trip to Washington at least.
Erasmus is smiling at the form of his centres with Damian de Allende, Lukhanyo Am and Jesse Kriel all playing outstanding rugby and Lionel Mapoe, while Rohan Janse van Rensburg could burst his way back into Bok contention with some solid cameo performances for the Lions.
It is on the wings that Erasmus’ job becomes somewhat tricky with the likes of Aphiwe Dyantyi, Sbu Nkosi and Madosh Tambwe making a strong claim for recognition while Raymond Rhule and Dillyn Leyds have done enough to retain their places in the team.
One cannot leave out the try-scoring machine that is Makazole Mapimpi who has proven his value in every team he has played in over the past two years.
Fullback shouldn’t be an issue at all with the in-form Warrick Gelant the sure bet to start while Andries Coetzee remains the safe selection as cover with Bosch also considered maybe even ahead of Coetzee.
The versatility of a lot of the players will work in their advantage with most of them able to play in at least two positions.
Erasmus, though, will need to strike the balance in rewarding form and choosing the right combinations for the good of his team.
It all starts up front, doesn’t it? So Erasmus will want to make sure he gets the mix right, but he won’t be able to consider a few key men who’d be part of just about any match-day squad, and here we think of Eben Etzebeth, Malcolm Marx, Warren Whiteley, Lood de Jager, and Coenie Oosthuizen who’re all injured and unavailable for the June Tests.
What that’s done is open the door for a few others to grab their chance.
Among the loose forwards, Erasmus could surprise by picking Lions blindside flank Cyle Brink, who it is believed he rates highly. Brink’s strength over the ball, and as a carrier, are understood to be traits the Bok boss likes.
Also, there is the Bulls duo of Marco van Staden, who can play anywhere in the back-row and who is also immensely strong, and Roelof Smit, a genuine “fetcher” who has shown he is up for international rugby.
At lock, the absence of De Jager and Etzebeth could open the door for rookies Jason Jenkins and RG Snyman of the Bulls, but let’s not forget the Lions’ Marvin Orie, who has enjoyed a good season up to now.
In the front row, the Cheetahs’ exciting prop Ox Nche could get his first taste of Test rugby in the next month, while Thomas du Toit, the Sharks man who’s moved from the loosehead to the tighthead, is also in with a shout of getting a first Bok cap.
And what about Saracens-based Vincent Koch, who’s rated among the best in England?
Then there’s the much talked-about hooker position. Will Erasmus go with Bismarck du Plessis, who’s already 34, or will it be Sharks man Akker van der Merwe, to join Bongi Mbonambi and Chiliboy Ralepelle?
Or, will Stormers man Ramone Samuels get a look-in?
The good news for Erasmus is he can pick any number of players who’re in good form and have shown they are keen to step up to Test rugby. Finding the right mix and getting the combinations spot on, especially in the back-row, will be crucial.