Despite admitting he has made his decision on the loose trio, it will no doubt be his toughest balancing act
As much as there was a buzz of excitement before the unveiling of Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus’ first Test side in June, there is equal anticipation ahead of what will be a defining Rugby Championship for the rebuilding Springboks.
Erasmus has a lot to build upon from June with regards to his team, with Lukhanyo Am one player who will be assured of a starting spot, but this time with his Sharks teammate André Esterhuizen on his inside.
But where there will be a change is that the coach has at his disposal powerhouse lock Eben Etzebeth, who is returning from injury, and who looks set to be thrown straight into the starting XV.
Etzebeth’s timely return is one that only adds to the riches the Springboks have in the second row with Franco Mostert, Pieter-Steph du Toit, and RG Snyman all in peak form and all worthy of starting the Test.
However, for Erasmus, the decision to start Eben after a lengthy lay-off is to be able to manage the player’s workload better than should he come off the bench.
“Playing Eben off the bench is risky,” the coach explained. “If you get an injury in the first five minutes, he will have to go 75 minutes, so I would much rather start somebody like him to make sure that if he is tired then you can sub him, whereas on the bench you are in trouble if something happens.”
It also allows the coach to manage his other locks who have had a busy time across Super Rugby.
“We have to manage guys like Franco Mostert and his game time, Elton Jantjies, even RG Snyman where he played every game basically for the Bulls,” Erasmus added.
It would appear then that Pieter-Steph du Toit may have the inside line for the spot to start alongside Etzebeth, especially considering the abundance of good loose forwards as well.
“With Lood de Jager out, and Franco Mostert calling line-outs, as well as Pieter-Steph, those will probably be the two five locks, and that means Siya Kolisi will play No 7 for us during some games.”
While there is a lot to speculate over who will play in the loose forwards, especially with the coach adding he wants to see débutantes Cyle Brink and Marco Van Staaden get their caps in the next two games, the centre partnership is all locked up.
“André Esterhuizen is fit, and it is his home field, so it makes sense to select him rather than mixing and matching at this stage,” Erasmus said in regards to the speculation that Handré Pollard could play 12. “It is quite obvious I am going to put André and Lukhanyo Am together, and not because it is at the Sharks, that is just a bonus. It helps that the two of them have played together.”
Overall though, despite admitting he has made his decision on the loose trio, it will no doubt be his toughest balancing act.
He has two newbies he wants to test, but also the return of a very different No 8 to that of his first choice Duane Vermeulen, and there are those in the second row who can also move to the flanks with Francois Louw also providing another option across all three positions.
“We will have to rejig the loose forward combinations so we can keep the grunt and the softer skills,” the coach said.
“We can’t just pop Warren in at No 8 and think he will do the same job as Duane, but there is a lot of things that Warren can do that Duane can’t. What you lose in a certain aspect, you gain in others a lot more.
“When we do select the loose trio, we will nullify the losses in terms of attributes.”