PRETORIA – Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus faces a selection dilemma of having to field his strongest team against what he has dubbed the toughest game of their tour against Wales on Saturday, while under pressure to field players who have not yet played.
In his own words on arrival in Cardiff on Monday, Erasmus stated that playing against Wales would be tougher than their one point loss to England at the beginning of their end-of-year tour.
That is enough reason for Erasmus not to take any gambles on tinkering with his team selection and going for his strongest team available in order to finish the tour on a high and break a three-Test losing streak against the Welsh.
It has been rather obvious in recent months and weeks who the personnel that Erasmus trusts the most to do the job for him and aside from doubts on the availability of lock Eben Etzebeth and that of scrumhalf Faf de Klerk, it looks certain that Erasmus will go for the same team that beat Scotland over the weekend.
While Erasmus looks to build cohesion and capacity amongst his usual suspects with an eye on next year’s World Cup, the reality is that many of the fringe players on tour are being denied the opportunity to stake their claim and in also growing the depth of the team.
The truth of the matter is that time has always been against Erasmus since taking over the reins earlier this year and over and above building a formidable unit, he is constantly under pressure to deliver victories.
But there is another reality of what would happen if some of Erasmus’ trusted personnel suffer injuries that could prevent them from participating at the World Cup? Will the incoming players have sufficient experience at Test level and know their way around the team not to be a liability to themselves and the Bok cause?
Well Erasmus won’t know unless he gives the fringe players enough of a chance to play. The likes of versatile and in-form prop Trevor Nyakane, Schalk Brits, Bongi Mbonambi, Wilco Louw, Elton Jantjies and to a lesser extent Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Damian Willemse are no strangers to international rugby but they also deserve a fair crack if they are on tour.
Nyakane has not featured in any of the matches on tour so far and while his place in the team has been hampered by injury this year, he still remains one of the best props around.
Between Mbonambi and Brits there is enough at hooker for the Boks not to be too concerned if Malcolm Marx doesn’t make the matchday squad while Louw, Jantjies and Notshe need to be seriously considered.
Then there is the elephant in the room scenario of players like Gio Aplon, Louis Schreuder and the uncapped Ruhan Nel, Sergeal Petersen and JD Schickerling.
While Aplon has 17 Test appearances under his belt he hasn’t played for the Boks in six years and his surprise call-up surely meant that Erasmus considers him as an option.
Schreuder only has one cap and coincidentally that against Wales, and if Erasmus is to grow his stocks at scrumhalf then the Sharks halfback needs to get some game time this weekend.
As unlikely as it may be that Erasmus will hand Nel, Petersen and Schickerling their Test debuts in such a demanding and crucial game, the former Bok flank will not know whether the Western Province trio are up to the task of playing international rugby or not unless he picks them.@Vata_Ngobeni