RASSIE COULDN’T HAVE PICKED A BETTER SQUAD
THE Springbok World Cup squad announcement was a lot like opening a present while having a pretty good idea of what’s inside that box – it comes as little surprise, but there is still a fair bit of emotion, be it reinforced excitement or disappointment, that comes with officially knowing.
While August 26 was D-Day for the 31-man group to be announced, there was very little room for speculation as to what the Bok squad would look like.
In fact, the only reasonable debate to be had was which one of three players would miss the cut. Player 32 turned out to be loose forward Rynhardt Elstadt.
Given the injury situation with some players – like Damian Willemse, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Warren Whiteley and Marcell Coetzee – and others having been released for Currie Cup duty at certain stages of their Bok involvement, there were a lot of hints. So, again, no shock moments were realistically expected at 3pm in Johannesburg yesterday.
But seeing that present, the official team, without the wrapping shouldn’t have come with a lack of excitement. Not at all.
Looking at the Bok teams coach Rassie Erasmus has fielded in 2019, one thing that’s undeniable is the depth in the squad.
You can say what you want about the quality of that Wallabies side a Bok “B” team beat during the Rugby Championship, but what really mattered was the quality of a South African side featuring mostly fringe and overseasbased players.
And looking at the World Cup inclusions, all things considered, there couldn’t have been a better group.
Sure, the injured guys – especially the backs – would have had almost guaranteed spots had they been 100% ready, and if there was one risk I’d have liked to see Erasmus take, it would have been going for the versatile, and in-form, Dillyn Leyds or Willemse – who can cover No 10, 15 and 12 if he had to – over someone like Warrick Gelant.
Gelant is a fine player, no doubt about that, but he hasn’t exactly marked himself as a Bok-must this season, although I need no convincing that two Currie Cup games after injury (Willemse) doesn’t automatically make you Test ready.
Then there is that strike force … With guys like S’bu Nkosi, Cheslin Kolbe, Herschel Jantjies, Willie le Roux, Makazole Mampmpi and Lukhanyo Am among the backline options, this group has no shortage of firepower – an aspect that is one of the key standouts for me.
Up front, the loose-forward options come with go-forward, physicality and work rate, while Siya Kolisi and Kwagga Smith also bring a “looser” vibe to the back-row candidates. Although there are a number of poachers outside the No 6 position, Francois Louw and Smith, whoever comes off the bench in the big games, will add to that as well. In the front row, Steven Kitshoff, Tendai Mtawarira, Vincent Koch, Trevor Nyakane and Frans Malherbe should also present some promising permutations.
All in all, if this Bok brand hasn’t already flagged itself as a World
Cup contender after some of their results over the last year – truncated Championship included – the make-up of this squad certainly should.
After all, although history has shown that Rugby Championship results don’t mean much in a World Cup year, for this Bok team, a team that has emerged from some dark days in recent years, it certainly does.