JOHANNESBURG – In a shortened Rugby Championship there’s not a lot of time or opportunity for the players to show national coach Rassie Erasmus they should be part of the World Cup squad later this year.
In Saturday’s opening Test of the year, against the Wallabies at Ellis Park, several players have been given a chance to get a tick behind their name. Here rugby writer Jacques van der Westhuyzen list six men who’ll be going all out to make a lot of noise
The big utility back has seemingly impressed all in the Bok camp in the last few days, but he’s had to be happy with a place among the reserves for this weekend’s Test. Erasmus though is almost certainly going to want to see him in action, possibly at inside centre, so expect a full 40 minute shift from the veteran star. At 32 he’s still young enough to be a Bok regular, including at the World Cup, and he could add plenty of value, but he’s now got to show he’s still got the game to be a serious contender.
The hometown favourite knows every blade of grass on the lush Ellis Park turf so the good news is he’ll be in familiar surroundings. While an almost sure bet to be the second-choice flyhalf in the Bok squad for the year, he must still grab this chance and prove the doubters – and there are plenty – wrong with a quality, commanding performance. Erasmus needs to know he can fully trust the 28-year-old to deliver consistent Test-quality rugby should anything happen to Handre Pollard. His other task will be to guide the rookie No 9 on his inside.
Erasmus said the Western Province man had “banged down the door” this year and he’d be right. The 23-year-old goes into his debut Test on the back of a very impressive Super Rugby season and will be oozing confidence. He has been noticed and been given an opportunity, ahead of the more experienced Cobus Reinach who’ll play off the bench, and now needs to make it count. Erasmus and his coaching team will want to know after Saturday’s Test they have the right back-up to Faf de Klerk, with other No 9s waiting in the wings.
The big, tall and aggressive loose-forward had given up on playing for the Boks when he left these shores two years ago to play in France, but somewhat out of the blue he’s been granted a chance to push for a World Cup place. His strength and versatility make him somebody who could add value to the Boks, and Erasmus has noticed. There are a lot of quality loose-forwards all hoping for a golden ticket to Japan, but right now Elstadt is in the front row of the grid; and it’s his opportunity to take or let go.
Lood de Jager
It was just a few months ago that the tall lock ended up on the injured list, with his World Cup chances up in the air. He’s come back sooner than expected and played well for the Bulls in the Currie Cup last week, but now has to step up at Test level. A quality player, who sometimes blows hot and cold, he’s competing with several other high-class locks for a World Cup spot. Against a strong Wallabies team and with captain and hard-man Eben Etzebeth next to him, this is his chance to shine again.
Injury after injury robbed the now 28-year-old of more chances of playing Test rugby, but following a strong season for Ulster, Coetzee is back in the mix and, hopefully, ready to remind the world just what a class loose-forward he is. Like Elstadt, the former Sharks man has it all to do in the minutes he’ll get on the field as there are so many men pushing for spots in the back-row. He’ll be keen to get a full half of rugby, and play a key impact role, coming off the bench on Saturday.
Warrick Gelant, S’bu Nkosi, Jesse Kriel, Andre Esterhuizen, Makazole Mapimpi, Elton Jantjies, Herschel Jantjies, Francois Louw, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Rynhardt Elstadt, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Trevor Nyakane, Bongi Mbonambi, Beast Mtawarira. Replacements: Schalk Brits, Lizo Gqoboka, Vincent Koch, Marvin Orie, Marcel Coetzee, Cobus Reinach, Frans Steyn, Dillyn Leyds
Tom Banks, Dane Haylett-Petty, Tevita Kuridrani, Samu Kerevi, Reece Hodge, Bernard Foley, Nic White, Isa Naisarani, Michael Hooper, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Rory Arnold, Izack Rodda, Sekope Kepu, Folau Fainga’a, James Slipper. Replacements: Jordan Uelese, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Taniela Tupou, Rob Simmons, Jack Dempsey, Will Genia, Matt To’omua, Kurtley Beale
Referee: Paul Williams (NZ)