Flyhalf and midfield positions biggest poser for Boks

South Africa's Handre Pollard should be the preferred option against Ireland this coming weekend. | Backpagepix

South Africa's Handre Pollard should be the preferred option against Ireland this coming weekend. | Backpagepix

Published Jul 1, 2024


Leighton Koopman

The flyhalf and midfield positions are most likely the two conundrums the Springbok coaches will have fret about the longest before naming the side to face world No 2 Ireland in the first of two Tests this weekend in Pretoria.

While there are certainly some strong candidates waiting in the wings for the No 10 jersey, head coach Rassie Erasmus will only have had his two World Cup-winning pivots, Handre Pollard and Manie Libbok on the shortlist to start on Saturday at Loftus Versfeld (5.05 pm kick-off).

South Africa’s Manie Libbok’s X-factor could give Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus pause for thought regarding the No 10 jersey. | Backpagepix

Pollard, after his World Cup exploits, should be in the driver’s seat against the Irish. He comes with vast experience, especially playing at Loftus, and his calming influence and accurate kicking boot could be key.

It was the right foot of the former Bulls flyhalf that led the Springboks to three one-point victories on their way to lifting back-to-back World Cup trophies last year. Pollard did not feature in the group stages against the Irish while recovering from an injury. Libbok took charge, and while the reigning world champions thrive on the attack with him in the saddle, crucial missed kicks in that battle last year hampered the side as they lost the only match of the tournament against their two-Test foes.

The Stormers flyhalf’s goal-kicking game has improved since then and he will most likely be a key figure in the Bok backline under new attack coach Tony Brown. Libbok is the most suited to an attacking game plan of the current flyhalves in the squad, but it’s highly unlikely that South Africa will depart from a winning formula when they to take on Ireland.

Their recent 41-13 victory over Wales came off the back of a strong showing by the forwards and things are not likely to be any different for the home side on Saturday. They have a settled pack, even in the injury absence of some World Cup winners, that will look to dominate in the scrums and with the rolling mauls as they did in their first Test of the year at Twickenham a couple of weeks ago.

Of course, a full-strength Ireland will be a different kettle of fish to the Welsh.

Lukhanyo Am’s return to fitness also poses a question among the centres. Will Erasmus reunite him with Damian de Allende or does the outstanding recent partnership between De Allande and Jesse Kriel warrant keeping the 2023 World Cup-winning duo together over the 2019 pairing?

The bulldozing Andre Esterhuizen will also throw his name in the hat for that No 12 jersey.

That’s a selection headache plenty of international coaches would love to have, and it doesn’t matter who combines in the No 12 and No 13 jersey on the day, the Springboks are spoilt for choice with plenty of experience.

In the absence of the injured Damian Willemse, the experience, influence and 93 Test matches of Willie le Roux should have the Boks sleeping soundly with no worries about the fullback position.

The world champions started their final preparation for the Irish yesterday in Pretoria after giving the players a break over the weekend. Erasmus stated that they are fully in Ireland mode and a recent post of his on social media platform X already had the tongues wagging.

Some more spice is expected during the week as the build-up to Saturday’s first Test continues. It’s been a long time since South Africa was on the winning side against Ireland. Saturday can be the first step to bagging a series win over the world’s second-ranked side.

Related Topics: