Springboks / 2 July 2019, 3:00pm / Jacques van der Westhuyzen
The good news is Rassie Erasmis has cast his net very wide and will take only the best men to Japan later this year to challenge for the World Cup. The bad news is there are not too many players in his 40-man training group who would step into a World XV today and Erasmus’ challenge over the next 79 days before the tournament gets underway is to turn a potentially good team into a world-beating XV.
When the Boks last won the World Cup, in 2007, the squad included players like Os du Randt, Schalk Burger, Juan Smith, Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez, Jaque Fourie, Frans Steyn, Bryan Habana and also a young Bismarck du Plessis – all players, arguably, who were at the time, or would go on to become, the best in the world in their positions.
It is debatable whether in the current squad assembled in Pretoria to plan for the international season (which includes a shortened Rugby Championship, a one-off Test and the World Cup) there is one player who would be picked for a World XV based on current form – whether from Super Rugby or in any league in the northern hemisphere.
And that is why, despite Erasmus getting it right in his selections so far, the Boks have some way to go for the fans to believe they’ll be in with a real shout in Japan.
Of course, it doesn’t take much to get on a roll, get momentum behind one and gain belief and self-confidence.
And then, there’s always a bit of luck needed to go all the way.
I don’t care what anyone says, the Boks of Jake White got lucky in 2007 because they didn’t play any of New Zealand, Australia, Wales, Ireland or France; their biggest opponents being England, who they beat in the pool stages and in the final, but to be honest it wasn’t the strongest England team either.
Anyway, the Boks did what they had to and they triumphed with an excellent squad, packed with individual stars.
This year, Erasmus has picked the best of the best and there really aren’t too many players who missed out on the squad assembled in Pretoria.
And that is encouraging news; Erasmus is giving himself and his coaching team every opportunity to select the best men to do duty in the World Cup, and that includes 10 overseas-based players, who may or may not make the final cut.
But, there is more depth and experience in the current group than there has been in a very long time, and that’s hugely encouraging.
Erasmus has options up front and at the back; there are a number of very seasoned campaigners and there are some young guns with flair and not a care in the world.
It’s a great mix to be picking from.
But, compared to the best in the game, those individuals who’ll turn out for the likes of Ireland, England and New Zealand, there are not too many standout stars in the Bok group.
On their day, maybe Eben Etzebeth, Malcolm Marx, Duane Vermeulen among the forwards, and maybe Faf de Klerk among the backs, would get ticks behind their names, but would they find themselves in a World XV today?
Individuals though don’t win World Cups; teams do, and the encouraging news is there’s definitely enough talent available for Bok fans to be optimistic that Erasmus will turn very good and decent players into a world-beating Bok squad in Japan.