BLOEMFONTEIN - It's now time for a gamble and a little experimentation. Having wrapped up the three-Test series against England after just two games, new Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus looks set to make a few interesting changes for the third Test in Cape Town this weekend.
The Boks will go into the final game of the series having come from behind twice to win - first in Joburg when they triumphed 42-39 after being 24-3 down early on in the first half and then here on Saturday when they came back from being 12-0 down to win 23-12. It has given Erasmus licence to shake things up a bit this weekend.
“It’s nice to have the series wrapped up,” he said with a smile after Saturday’s win which left Eddie Jones and his team having to deal with the fallout of a fifth straight Test defeat. “We’re certainly going to try to win the series 3-0, but we can now also try a few things this weekend. We’ll look at some different guys; see how they go in a pressure situation, under different circumstances.”
Erasmus is almost certain to hand veteran hooker Schalk Brits a run at his former home ground, even if only from the bench, which would allow the 37-year-old to bow out in style. With Bongi Mbonambi having performed so strongly in the first two Tests and fit-again Malcolm Marx set for a return in the Rugby Championship, this may well be Brits’ last involvement with the Boks.
Lions lock Marvin Orie could also get a look-in this week, perhaps coming into the mix in place of provincial teammate Franco Mostert, who has played a lot of rugby this year, while Dan du Preez could also come into the selection frame. Among the backs, Embrose Papier might be brought in, while in the midfield Andre Esterhuizen is almost certain to get a start at 12 and there could even be a change at outside centre, too, with Jesse Kriel playing in place of Lukhanyo Am, who is believed to be nursing a niggle.
Erasmus again lauded his team’s character and composure to come back from being 12-0 down early on in the second Test in Bloemfontein. He made special mention of his captain and birthday boy on the day Siya Kolisi and 100-cap veteran Beast Mtawarira, but also the influence of his overseas-based men in the team.
“It was a big day for Siya and Beast ... and they both performed brilliantly. There’s relief in the squad the series is won, but next week will again be a massive one. But credit must again go to a guy like Duane (Vermeulen, one of the stars of the Test), and also Willie (le Roux) ... I knew they’d bring experience to the team," Erasmus said.
"They also brought a lot of steadiness to things. Duane (who was named Man of the Match) especially is playing very accurate rugby, he’s fit and sharp and running great lines. He’s strong over the ball and has worked closely with Siya in making the right decisions. We’re blessed to have guys like him that are committed to the cause.”
Erasmus was also full of praise for live-wire scrumhalf Faf de Klerk: “You must allow the characters in a team to be characters ... you don’t want the same sizes and personalities; individuality is important in rugby, and Faf brings something different to the party. We’re never going to box people in.”
While the Boks have won back-to-back Tests and twice been the better team against Jones’ England, there are still plenty of areas that need attention; the defence out wide being one of them. “There’s work for us again this week ... we gave away some bad penalties (on Saturday), our discipline wasn’t great, and we made a lot of mistakes,” said Erasmus. “But we’ll look to take another step forward this coming week.”