JOHANNESBURG – Generally, the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers have been poor in 2019. More worrying nearly in this World Cup year is the fact so few players from outside the larger Springbok squad have put up their hands and said “pick me”.
Bok boss Rassie Erasmus probably has his first-choice 31-man squad already pencilled in, but injuries could still rule out a player or two, which would force Erasmus to look elsewhere. But so few men who have yet to play under him have made a case to get a look-in.
So far in Super Rugby it’s the same contenders as last year. Injuries have meant some players haven’t played as much as Erasmus would have liked, which may jeopardise their World Cup chances, while in other cases the Bok boss will be pleased some men have been forced to sit out and rest.
There have literally been a handful of players who’ve either been part of a squad or played a nominal number of matches, or not at all, who’ve so far made some impression, but certainly not banged the door down.
At the Bulls, only prop Lizo Gqoboka, who has been part of Bok squads before but not yet played a Test (possibly because of injury), is the only man who deserves a much closer look.
The only Lions man who has enjoyed an above-average campaign so far, and who hasn’t been a Bok regular is Kwagga Smith, but he’s now injured. And it is doubtful Erasmus will look his way with so many loose-forwards to pick from.
At the Sharks it’s also ‘same-old, same old’ but Makazole Mapimpi has developed so well that he’s now this country’s premium winger, while Curwin Bosch has shown he should be playing regularly to give Erasmus something to look at. Bosch could easily be the backline jack-of-all-trades, covering several positions, and his X-factor make him the near perfect bench man.
Centre Lukhanyo Am, after a difficult 2018, has also shown he cannot be ignored. His battle with Jesse Kriel for the No 13 jersey will be closely watched in the coming months. They have both been in very good form, and outside centre is one position Erasmus need not be worried about.
There hasn't been much to get excited about at the Stormers. Loose-forward Jaco Coetzee has been good, but he won’t force his way into the Bok squad, and neither will the currently-injured JD Schickerling.
What will be more interesting now that the 30-Test eligibility rule has been cancelled - not that it applied in a World Cup year - is who Erasmus is going to pick from outside our borders.
Inside centre remains a position of concern and perhaps Erasmus should consider playing Jan Serfontein in the four Tests before he names his World Cup squad to see what the former World Rugby U-21 Player of the Year brings. He does, after all, know what he has in Damian de Allende and Andre Esterhuizen.
Right now overseas-based Willie le Roux, Faf de Klerk and Franco Mostert are almost sure of getting ticks behind their names, while Cheslin Kolbe, Francois Louw and Vincent Koch will be 50/50 calls. At scrumhalf Northampton's Cobus Reinach could still feature as the third choice, but Erasmus could also opt to go for the Sharks captain Louis Schreuder.
Time is moving quickly ... for those who feel they’ve still got work to do to secure a World Cup spot best they get cracking.@jacq_west