Rassie trusts Bok stalwarts to build winning momentum

Rassie Erasmus selected the most experience Springbok matchday 23 yesterday to face Ireland in the second Test. | BackpagePix

Rassie Erasmus selected the most experience Springbok matchday 23 yesterday to face Ireland in the second Test. | BackpagePix

Published Jul 10, 2024


Mike Greenaway

After naming the most experienced Springbok team in history for Saturday’s second Test against Ireland, coach Rassie Erasmus said he will continue to play his senior citizens as long as they “don’t fall off the pace.”

Erasmus named an unchanged match 23 and the 990 combined Test caps eclipses the 987 caps amassed by the team that won the World Cup final against New Zealand last year.

The Bok boss explained that while he will make sure he has “at least five” top players in each position by the time the 2027 World Cup in Australia comes around, winning momentum takes preference for now.

“We are trying to build depth in every position, and we will over the next three years, but the experienced guys that can still maintain their highest level will be picked until they can’t do anymore. Then our succession planning will kick in,” Erasmus explained.

“We will not be caught short in 2027 but for now our priority is winning momentum and I understand from my playing days that it is not good to throw newcomers in against top teams like Ireland.

“We are trying to build slowly and give guys a taste of Test rugby. You can’t just throw a young guy in against Ireland because it might kill his future. When I played, a few guys were tossed in at the highest level without having been slowly introduced and they didn’t always cope.

“We will see how the big boys last but if they keep playing like they did last week, there is no need to make changes.”

The coach confirmed he will make widespread changes for the match against Portugal in Bloemfontein next week. This is similar to 2022 when Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber gave a raft of players their debut in the second Test against Wales in Bloemfontein.

“Next week, guys like Lukhanyo Am and Canan Moodie will get game time. You will see all the up-and-coming guys get a chance — in the front row, Johan Grobbelaar, Andre-Hugo Venter, Jan-Hendrik Wessels … I won’t go through the whole team but there will be fresh faces.”

Erasmus said that it is not just the building of player depth that is a challenge in the build-up to the 2027 World Cup.

“We did not have the opportunity in 2020 to try new things (after the 2019 World Cup) because of Covid-19 but now we have to try things not just on attack but on defence, in the scrums and the line-outs, in every facet of the game because rugby changes,” he said.

“We have to understand where rugby is headed with the law changes and where World Rugby wants the game to go. If we don’t adapt we will die a slow death, so we must adapt and there is bound to be a few mistakes while we do that.”

For now, top of the agenda by some margin is beating Ireland on Saturday for a 2-0 clean sweep.

“When you play against New Zealand it is nice to win, and it is nice to beat Wales but Ireland is certainly one of the teams that have been peaking and ruling Six Nations and dominating World XVs, so if we do win the series, it will not just be satisfaction for me but for South Africa, and the team morale because in the last four matches, they are 3-1 up.”

Erasmus pointed out that this is easier said than done.

“It’s always tough facing Ireland. They are a quality team, they are ranked second in the world, and as we saw last week, they never stop fighting, so we know the magnitude of the challenge that awaits us this weekend.

“With a minute to go at Loftus, they were in with a shot of drawing the game. They created a lot of opportunities and will be disappointed they did not score three more tries than the three they did.

“We have no doubt they’ll come out even stronger this week, but we also identified the areas of the game that we need to improve on, and it’s vital for us to build on our performance in our quest to win both matches.”

Springbok starting XV: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Kwagga Smith, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche; Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Gerhard Steenekamp, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 RG Snyman, 21 Marco van Staden, 22 Grant Williams, 23 Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu