The Springboks have impressive depth, and that can never be a bad thing, especially in a World Cup year.
While Bok boss Rassie Erasmus approached his first international task of 2019 as an experiment, one has to hope that he’s seen what he wanted to see and that most of his questions were answered against the Wallabies at Ellis Park. After all, when the team run out against the All Blacks in Wellington on Saturday, it’s going to be all business. Rassie himself has made that clear.
One of the areas that has been surrounded by question marks is midfield, where the Springboks have significant presence, but form and combinations are going to be key.
At the weekend, it was Sharks inside centre Andre Esterhuizen and the Bulls’ Jesse Kriel who started at 12 and 13, with Frans Steyn coming off the bench in the second 40.
For Esterhuizen, the afternoon turned out to be far from ideal and he battled to own that inside channel. The Bok midfield needs more than just stopping power, and his time on the field didn’t build a strong case.
Kriel worked tirelessly on defence, but lacked any attacking edge.
In the greater scheme of things, ability and form should trump one Test outing. But even so, those categories favour Damian de Allende, Steyn and Lukhanyo Am.
When Steyn came off the bench in Joburg, his almost 30 minutes consisted of providing momentum as a carrier, impressive power and directness, and he complimented that with a subtle pop pass that saw Sbu Nkosi get a try.
He can also suck defenders in to create opportunities for those around him, and not many rugby fans need any reminding of his passing game.
But as big as Steyn has been for Montpellier, De Allende has also made promising strides back to his “old” self this season, although the overall performance of the Stormers wouldn’t allow many to look past the team’s struggles and zoom in on the 37-cap Bok.
He looked for space, he delivered when it came to the power game, and offloads, line-breaks and some good lines all formed part of his Super Rugby season. Some of his touches were downright electric.
Then there’s Am, South Africa’s form outside centre.
The Sharks midfielder can sniff out gaps and pick superb running lines, can deliver in terms of finishing, is highly physical, and then there’s also his distribution, his passing, his support play all neatly wrapped up in an attractive 13 package. And he can use all of that to get his backs going.
So, all things considered, which combination should wear the No 12 and 13 jerseys against the All Blacks at The Cake Tin?
My pick is De Allende and Am.
Yes, De Allende and Kriel have formed an experienced centre combo over the years, and Steyn oozed so much class at the weekend that it was hard to believe his last stint with the Boks was back in 2017.
But in De Allende and Am you have the prospect of a centre pairing that can bring physicality and, importantly, also create opportunities for those around them. Besides, at times this season it was like watching clips of De Allende from 2015. And if he continues on that path, he will be a serious factor come the World Cup.
Steyn can provide quality impact off the bench. And in a game where you can never switch off and where that last quarter is going to be vital, Steyn can be the Boks’ man.