CAPE TOWN – Just who should be the centre of attention for the Springboks?
The midfield has become problematic for coach Rassie Erasmus in 2018.
A number of factors have caused the uncertainty. Injuries have been at the top of that list, with Damian de Allende, Lukhanyo Am, Lionel Mapoe and even Makazole Mapimpi, which resulted in Jesse Kriel moving to wing.
But form and tactics have also played a part, with De Allende and André Esterhuizen sometimes used as battering rams, Kriel’s shortcomings on attack and defence being exposed, and Am initially battling with alignment on defence.
Mapoe, though, hasn’t been given much game time, while Am is definitely out injured and is trying to get fit for the end-of-year tour.
So, who should wear No 12 and No 13 against the All Blacks at Loftus on Saturday?
Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel
This seems to be the preferred centre combination for Rassie Erasmus, but it depends on whether De Allende has recovered from the shoulder injury he sustained in Wellington.
The duo have played quite a few Tests together, but Kriel’s inconsistent performances are a worry.
Damian de Allende and Lionel Mapoe
They will pose significant physical threats to the All Black midfield, even if Sonny Bill Williams starts on Saturday. The key to this combo working, though, would be for De Allende to utilise his creative passing game and dove-tailing off the hard-running Mapoe, who is always looking for the outside gap.
André Esterhuizen and Jesse Kriel
The Sharks No 12 did the hard yards against the Wallabies last week, but again, didn’t (or wasn’t allowed to) showcase his offloading skills that were evident in Super Rugby.
This pair were sometimes scrambling in defence in Port Elizabeth last week.
André Esterhuizen and Lionel Mapoe
They wouldn’t have played together before, so it’s a long shot that they will face the All Blacks this week.
Handré Pollard and Jesse Kriel/Lionel Mapoe
Could Rassie Erasmus pull a rabbit out of the hat and pick Handré Pollard at inside centre?
Pollard is going really well at flyhalf at the moment, but if De Allende isn’t ready, it wouldn’t be a bad call to bring in Elton Jantjies at No 10 and let Pollard have a full go with ball-in-hand against the All Black centres.