Springbok coach has a wealth of loose trio options ahead of the World Cup.
Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus played 36 Tests as a loose forward for South Africa between 1997 and 2001, so he will appreciate more than most the luxury of loose trio options that are available to him as coach going into the World Cup.
In an ideal, injury-free world, Erasmus will have captain Siya Kolisi on one flank, Pieter-Steph du Toit on the other and Duane Vermeulen at No 8, with the options of bringing on one of Francois Louw, Kwagga Smith or Marcell Coetzee, or possibly two of them given that Coetzee and Louw can play all three positions.
Vermeulen is now 33 and if any of the three loose forward starters will need relief as the games hits the three-quarter mark, it is him. Vermeulen goes into Saturday’s Rugby Championship match against the Pumas a little off the form he enjoyed last year.
The “Great Duane” was colossal in the series win over England, igniting the comeback in the first Test at Ellis Park and setting the pace in the second Test win in Bloemfontein.
The fact that in 2019 he has yet to scale those heights should not be seen as a negative because great players hit their straps on the big stages, and it doesn’t get bigger than the World Cup.
Mark my words, we will see Vermeulen at his best in Japan. The same goes for Kolisi, who has missed the Rugby Championship because of injury but is set to make a comeback in the friendly against Argentina in Pretoria on August 17 and then play the warm-up against Japan in Tokyo on September 6.
Kolisi’s absence afforded Smith an opportunity in Wellington against the All Blacks and he continued his red-hot form for the Lions on the international stage. Smith is the most athletic of Erasmus’ options and will play a role when the coach anticipates an open, fast-paced match.
In the opening Rugby Championship match, Erasmus had a good look at Rynhardt Elstadt and Coetzee against the Wallabies, the latter playing off the bench for Du Toit, and it is likely Erasmus will look to give Coetzee more game time in Salta on Saturday.
Former captain Warren Whiteley might still force his way into the equation after his latest injury, and there is also Marco van Staden, who played his way into the squad with excellent form on the openside flank for the Bulls.
Elstadt, who has flourished at Toulouse since departing the Stormers, is in the mould of Du Toit in that he offers a physical presence on attack and defence, and is a solid line-out option.
If you consider that Erasmus has yet to feel a need to call up the Du Preez twins, Dan and Jean-luc, who were excellent for the Sharks in Super Rugby, then his options are indeed luxuriant.
How these options will be pieced together over the course of the World Cup is a headache Erasmus will be happy to have.