CAPE TOWN – After Duane Vermeulen confirmed that he won’t be available for the Rugby Championship, Springbok captain Siya Kolisi could also get a break from the game at some stage this year.
Bok coach Rassie Erasmus said in the aftermath of the 25-10 defeat to England at Newlands that he is juggling a number of different scenarios when it comes to player management leading up to the 2019 World Cup in Japan next September.
What has changed some of his plans has been the unavailability of the likes of Eben Etzebeth and Warren Whiteley – both of whom were initially expected to be over their injuries in time for the June Tests.
Etzebeth has still not returned to the field, while Whiteley made his comeback on Sunday for the Lions in a Rugby Challenge game – along with hooker Malcolm Marx.
Having just those three players available would be a significant boost to the Boks for the Rugby Championship, but Erasmus is already thinking of the bigger picture of the World Cup.
He mentioned on Saturday night that even a youngster like flyhalf Damian Willemse may get a chance sometime this season, after Embrose Papier was involved briefly against Wales in Washington and at the weekend.
But on the other end of the scale, someone like Kolisi and others may join Vermeulen and not feature throughout the rest of 2018.
In response to a question of what he thought about Eddie Jones’ contention that the Boks can win the World Cup, Erasmus said: “The challenge currently with us is that there’s other things that sometimes is not as often open for you guys (media) to see.
“But the minutes he’s played (Kolisi) this season, without getting a rest – and playing and playing – so we’re trying to manage things like that. So, there are so many things we are balancing at this stage in trying to build for the World Cup.
“I really think we can win the World Cup… I think England can win the World Cup. They won 23 out of 25 games, and they were six-love down now in Tests, and they came back and beat us at Newlands.
“We got it right in two or three Test matches – we were terrible today, in my opinion. But with the things that we’ve tried and the lessons that we’ve learned, with Damian (de Allende), and Damian Willemse still there. And Eben, who is out of the mix.
“I think if we can get it all right quickly, like we did in the first two Test matches against England, I think we are in with a chance (at the World Cup). Like them, they were excellent (at Newlands).”
Apart from Kolisi, some others who might be feeling the pinch when it comes to game time this year are Tendai Mtawarira, Franco Mostert and Pieter-Steph du Toit, and it will be interesting to see if they are stood down from Super Rugby duty over the coming weeks.
Wilco Louw was already stood down for the last two England Tests as he was “punch-drunk” from playing virtually non-stop in 2018, according to Erasmus, who will now also hope that the likes of Coenie Oosthuizen and Lood de Jager will be back in contention soon.
“Yes, we’ve got the talent, but we’ve got to manage our talent. That’s why Duane says he might go out, and we might have to use him sparingly over the next couple of months,” the coach said.
“Even a guy like Siya, a guy like Willie (le Roux) – there are a lot of things we have to balance to make sure that when we hit next year September, we’ve got a fresh, experienced team with a lot of confidence.”
The Boks’ next game is their Rugby Championship opener against Argentina on August 18 at Kings Park in Durban.@ashfakmohamed