JOHANNESBURG – South African rugby fans can start getting excited. The week-in, week-out, same-old, same-old of Super Rugby is finally over and now we can all look ahead to what the Springboks will dish up this year – firstly in the Rugby Championship, and then at the World Cup.
The larger training squad has been picked and everyone who should be in the frame is there, with a handful of injured men set to possibly make a late push for inclusion in the final squad of 31. Here we think of Warren Whiteley, Damian Willemse and maybe Jan Serfontein and Dan du Preez.
Everyone else who should be there is there and rugby fans can rest easy in the knowledge Rassie Erasmus has so far got it right.
Anticipation is now high for the season to kick-off and in just a few days’ time that will happen when the Springboks host the Wallabies in the opening match of this year’s shortened Rugby Championship. Each team will play each other only once before a winner is crowned.
There’s not a lot of time then for Erasmus to achieve what he wants before finalising his squad and heading to the World Cup. He’ll no doubt have a few things on his wish list to tick off over the course of the next three games and, starting this weekend, first up will be to get off to a strong and commanding start.
Let’s forget what the Australian sides did in Super Rugby (this year and last); they always push a strong and competitive Test side into action and it’ll be no different this year. The Boks need to play well and positively this weekend and send a statement out that they mean business in 2019.
Erasmus has opted to field two different teams in the back-to-back games against Australia (this weekend) and New Zealand (next weekend) and those teams need to “come off”.
Losing would bring about doubts around game-plan, players and World Cup readiness and no team should be questioning itself with so little time to rectify problems if there are, before a World Cup.
The Boks have had a decent amount of time together of late and they need to play with intent, defend strongly and well, and attack with precision and pace and power. When they kick, they must do so purposefully and when they maul they must do so with aggression and a plan. They must play smartly, with hunger and flair and freedom.
Erasmus will hope, above all else perhaps, that all of his key players – and there are several – get through the coming weeks injury free. Malcolm Marx, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Duane Vermeulen, Faf de Klerk, Handre Pollard and possibly Willie le Roux count among the key men and their staying fit and maintaining good form will be high up on the wish list.
Siya Kolisi returning to full fitness as soon as possible is also crucial. Erasmus will not want to find himself in a position as deadline day approaches where he has to make a tough call on his captain because of uncertainty around his fitness and readiness to play and lead the side.
The next few matches will, hopefully, also provide answers about who the best locks are in the squad, as well as who the loose-forwards are who should be going to the World Cup.
There’s also the question of whether overseas-based men like Rynhardt Elstadt, Frans Steyn, Cheslin Kolbe, Vincent Koch and Francois Louw, among others, are better than the men who’ve done the business in Super Rugby.
Elton Jantjies must also stand up and take charge in Test rugby this year.
The journey to the World Cup is underway. It should be a fun ride.