Home / Sports / Sport24.co.za | The Bok squad: Five burning questions …

Cape Town – The naming of his first Rugby Championship match-day 23, to play Argentina in Durban on August 18, may well spark more passionate debate than Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus’s revelation of his broader squad on Monday.

After all, a 35-strong party means more than two full rugby teams, so at this point “surprises” have been kept to a relative minimum.

Apart from the obligatory, listed handful of injured personnel and the already-known unavailability for this tournament of someone like heavyweight No 8 Duane Vermeulen, Erasmus has trimmed some fat from the even more swollen, 43-man group he revealed at the outset of his four-match June baptism (a once-off against Wales, three Tests against England) in the hot seat.

Wholly out of the picture now are the likes of Nizaam Carr, Bismarck du Plessis, Dan du Preez, Jason Jenkins, Oupa Mohoje, Ox Nche, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Kwagga Smith, Curwin Bosch, Robert du Preez, Travis Ismaiel, Frans Steyn and Cameron Wright.

The fresh buds of spring, if you like – uncapped inclusions – can’t be quibbled over very much, as Erasmus bloods, at least in his extended mix, fleet-footed flyhalf with versatile possibilities Damian Willemse, Lions blindside flank Cyle Brink and the robust young Bulls fetcher Marco van Staden.

But here are some more salient questions, arguably, around the entire squad named:  

1 Etzebeth’s ‘back’ … but just how ready is he?

It should be a major cause for jubilation among Bok fans that premier lock Eben Etzebeth is back in the group.

Along with Vermeulen (sadly absent for a while) and Malcolm Marx (a welcome return after his mid-year injury), I’d say he counts among the mere trio of genuine “fear factor” Bok players to frontline foes in what is hardly a golden era for the national team.

But the rugged Etzebeth has not played any competitive rugby since as far back as December 2 (against Wales in Cardiff) due to a lingering shoulder injury which also led to worryingly slow regrowth of one of his usually formidable biceps.

There must be no guarantees, then, that he will be ready – after no Super Rugby for the Stormers – to assume a starting role in the first portion of the tournament, home and away against the Pumas.

Perhaps a “phasing in” is his best bet, and increasingly broader deployment as the tougher obstacles (on paper) of Australia and New Zealand loom.

Certainly a potential first-choice lock pairing of Etzebeth at four (once fully fit) and lanky, versatile RG Snyman at five holds considerable appeal, but we may just have to be patient on that score …

 2 Is captain Kolisi going to stay at No 6?

The return of veteran, Bath-based open-sider Francois Louw to Bok favour raises interesting possibilities for a reshaped loose trio in the Championship.

He sports 57 Test caps and, with his 114kg frame, is more than simply a pilferer; he is a strong ball-carrier, mauler and knock-back tackler.

But is Louw going to start? If that’s what Erasmus envisages, then his confirmed, ongoing skipper Siya Kolisi will have to shift over to blindside, the side of the scrum where he is not an out-and-out powerhouse.

A personal gut feel is that, when the tournament begins, Kolisi will remain at six, with Pieter-Steph du Toit continuing his extremely decent strides (in the series triumph over the English) at No 7 and Warren Whiteley bagging the eighth-man role.

That combo offers just about the right blend, I believe, of grunt and mobility.

3 Is the 2019 transformation objective on track?

SA Rugby’s stated quest is to have a squad containing 50 percent players of colour (Government is pretty firm on the objective, too) by the time the World Cup comes around in Japan late next year.

Erasmus has won many friends in transformation-conscious circles for the manner in which he has given exposure – meaningful, too, not just “five-minutes” stuff – to various, exciting black players so far.

These include, for example, his new wing dynamos Aphiwe Dyantyi and S’bu Nkosi, though the latter is regrettably on the crocked list now.

Making the charismatic Kolisi captain also went down well, winning the Boks a far from insignificant fresh crop of staunch supporters from previously disadvantaged communities.

But the stark fact remains that, even as RWC 2019 looms larger on the radar, the percentage of players of colour in the current squad has dipped to 37, from the 44 it was when Erasmus named that first group ahead of the June challenges.

At some point, and sooner rather than later, he will need to start hiking it again.

4 Is Elton Jantjies simply ‘hanging in’?

It has been a bad few weeks for the mercurial, yet also enduringly fragile 28-year-old Lions pivot.

He had a wretched afternoon when asked to operate at No 10 in the dead-rubber Test against England at miserable, heavy-pitch Newlands, and then failed to tick the box for generalship all over again in his next red-letter game: Saturday’s Super Rugby final where he was massively outplayed by the Crusaders’ Richie Mo’unga, not even top of the New Zealand flyhalf pecking order as things stand.

Many observers would have been entitled to believe, then, that Jantjies’ time as a Bok option (he has 26 on-and-off caps, stretching back to 2012) was finally up.

Instead he stays in the party, albeit probably by the skin of his teeth, but now some way behind likely top pick Handre Pollard and perhaps also Willemse, the 20-year-old thrill machine who also offers superior physical credentials in a critical channel.

Does Erasmus still see Jantjies as someone who offers “super-sub” possibilities for the country?

Even that seems doubtful, considering that he cannot really fill any other berth in a backline.

Elton’s still “around” for the Boks … but he may be notably peripheral.

5 Has Rassie got the backline balance correct?

Four scrumhalves! Some might wish to view that as a statement of depth.

Other (and smarter, frankly) analysts are likelier to see it as a reflection of ongoing uncertainty in the key department.

Yes, Faf de Klerk has rightly re-established himself at first choice based on the England series, but below him the situation stays extremely volatile.

The rawness of Embrose Papier and Ivan van Zyl has coaxed (presumably?) Erasmus into recalling Lions stalwart – often smart and determined, but no whippet – Ross Cronje to the squad.

But loading the No 9s also means the Boks look a little light in some other backline areas: notably at wing, I’d venture, where the only true specialists named are Dyantyi, the now 32-year-old fitful international Lwazi Mvovo, and Makazole Mapimpi.

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