This past Monday the 26th of August the moment we’ve been waiting for arrived. We got our first look at the squad that we and Rassie Erasmus hope can lift the William Webb Ellis trophy in Japan in little over two months from now.
FORWARDS: Siya Kolisi(C), Pieter –Steph du Toit, Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw, Kwagga Smith, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Franco Mostert, RG Snyman, Bongo Mbonambi, Malcolm Marx, Shcalk Brits, Tendai Mtawarira, Steven Kitsoff, Frans Malherbe, Trevor Nyakane, Vincent Koch.
BACKS: Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Makazole Mapimpi, S’bu Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Jesse Kriel, Frans Steyn, Handre Pollard, Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, Herschel Jantjies, Cobus Reinach, Warrick Gelant.
Rassie has picked a strong healthy squad with almost zero injury concerns and it is the best possible squad. There will be those who argue that one or two players may have been unlucky with injury and would have made the squad if they were fit. Players like Damian Willemse and Warren Whiteley for example but I feel these players probably would have been left out anyway given the form of the players who are in front of them now.
As we take a deeper look at the squad we see that Rassie has a mix of youth and experience in this squad but even the more experienced players aren’t too old to be there. In fact the older players are amongst our best and are not just there for their experience. The younger players and first timers are all there based on merit as all of these young stars have performed at Super Rugby level and recently at test level for the Boks.
The forwards that will most likely start for the Springboks are a formidable pack for any nation to pack down against. The front row of Beast, Bongi and Trevor can scrum and out scrum the best of them and Beasts work rate away from the scrum makes him a key player for the Boks. Bongi’s lineout throwing ability will be crucial I tight situations and he has proved in the past that he has the stomach when the game is on the line. Trevor has come on in leaps and bounds since his move from the Cheetahs to the Bulls and is often the lynch pin when it comes to winning scrum penalties.
The two lock forwards pick themselves in my opinion. Franco Mostert and Eben Etzebeth have formed a good partnership in those positions and are arguably the best lock pairing in the world at the moment. They both possess all the attributes a top class lock forward needs and it’s difficult to separate them when it comes to work rate. They both get through a tremendous amount of rucks and tackles and will be more than willing ball carriers and more often than not will get us over the advantage line.
The back row in my opinion is a work of art, you have the brute force of a Duane Vermeulen who will also steal the occasional ball on the floor as well as jump in the line out. Then in the 7 jumper you have a two time SA player of the year in Pieter-Steph who can do absolutely everything on a rugby field and usually does. Consistently the player with the most tackles, carries and lineout wins Pieter will be one of our most influential players in the World Cup. The most important cog in the machine will be our number 6 and Captain Siya Kolisi, his calmness under pressure and decision making will be key as we progress through the tournament and his ability to lead by example with regards to work rate and attitude are second to none. I believe this is the man that makes the Boks tick and I believe he will be in contention for player of the tournament.
This is where things get a bit trickier for coach Erasmus, all the wingers have hit form at the right time and Herschel Jantjies’ form is putting pressure on Faf for a starting birth at the World Cup. Faf I think will start in the No.9 jersey but Jantjies will be pushing him all the way and will be vital off the bench as an impact player. Cobus will likely feature against the lesser fancied rugby nations but is by no means a step down in class from Jantjies or Faf and if there are any injuries in the scrum half position he will be able to step in easily.
At No. 10 we have one of the form Fly halves in the world. Handre Pollard had a solid season with the Bulls and was instrumental in them getting into the playoffs. His ability to straighten the line from the 10 position is what sets him apart as he can be a threat himself. We’ve seen great individual tries from him over the years and it’s that ability that makes the defense stand still and creates space for the flyers out wide.
In the centers we have Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am. De Allende has added so much to his game this season, he improved his kicking ability and decision making. In the past he has been accused of being one dimensional and after losing his place in the Bok team it seems he worked on his game this season and has made improvements and is no longer just a bash brother in the midfield. His center partner Am can be one of the best centers in world rugby, with the pace of a winger and strength of a forward Am uses his intelligence to choose when to use either of these attributes. His ability to quickly assess the situation and make the best decision is remarkable and will be vital to the Bok cause. These two centers on defense are a formidable pair with Am shooting out the line forcing attacks to the inside and De Allende’s ability to tackle people backwards, teams will have to be creative when attacking the Springbok defensive center pairing.
On the wings is where Rassie will have a headache with three men in the form of their lives, S’bu Nkosi, Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi are all in fantastic form and there is little to choose from when comparing the speedsters. They all possess lighting like speed and game breaking ability. Any one of them can start for the Boks but I thinks Rassie will go with Cheslin and Mapimpi, I just think Mapimpi’s form is undeniable and Cheslin has that spark that ignite the team when we need something special. It will be hard to overlook the finishing ability of Nkosi but for me Cheslin and Mapimpi get the nod.
At 15. We have the versatile Willie. The veteran fullback with the left foot option. Willie’s ability to come in at first receiver and relieve pressure on Pollard will be instrumental in the later stages of the World Cup. Willie is never flustered and positional sense in defense is exceptional. He also provides a calmness that seems to rub off on the rest of the team as one of its leaders.
This is where Coach Erasmus possibly has his biggest headache. With so many players that can come on and do bits for the team it will be difficult to strike the right balance on the bench. Most of the replacement players will get a run against the minnow teams but will also play a vital role off the bench when plan A isn’t working. The replacement front row will be one of the most important positions during the tournament while players like Elton Jantjies, Herschel Jantjies, Kwagga Smith and Frans Steyn will have to provide something different off the bench. Francois Louw’s fetching ability off the bench in the ‘championship’ minute could prove to be the difference in a tight game while RG Snyman’s offloading and ability to get over the gain line can be used to great effect with a tiring defense. Rassie will have the unenviable task of balancing his bench players and giving replacements game time in clashes against minnow teams.
All in all this squad is one that I think can strike fear into opponents because there is no respite, the Boks keep coming at you for 60 minutes and then have world class replacements on the bench to hit you where it hurts. This team and squad can in my opinion make it to the Semi Final and from there anything is possible. They are capable of going all the way as I believe on their day they can beat anyone in the tournament. Injuries always play a part at the World Cup, my only hope is that our replacements will seamlessly come in and do a job if not do better than who they replace. The squad has the depth needed to go deep into the tournament but the tone will be set by that first game against the All Blacks on September 21st. That game will go a long way in determining where the team is confidence wise and how ready they are to take on the rest of the world. Even if we lose that first game I don’t see us not making it out of the group as I don’t see us losing to Canada, Italy or Namibia. It will be the manner in which we dispatch those teams that will either inspire the nation or leave u with doubts.
I will be in full support of our boys and will be doing live a live watch along for all the Springbok games. So if you want to see all the emotions a Bok fan goes through in an 80 minute rugby game, be sure to watch with me on YouTube, there will be a link on The Fair Digest website to our YouTube channel. Join me in grabbing a cold one and supporting our team as they go for rugby glory in Japan.