Springboks need to kick on from June and put Erasmus doctrine into action
Rain is forecast as the next phase of Rassie Erasmus’s reign as Springbok coach kicks in‚ in their Rugby Championship opener against Argentina here on Saturday.
The clouds that have rolled in from the south‚ have for the hosts hopefully not done so as portent for the kind of gloom that descended on this city when the Los Pumas earned their maiden win here two years ago.
A greasy surface and a capricious breeze will more likely suit the tourists who will be all too aware of the Springboks’ fallibility under those conditions. In the Springboks’ most recent outing they slipped up badly against England in the wet at Newlands.
Before and after that game Erasmus stressed the importance of his players rising to whatever challenges they are presented. Saturday’s clash here will be the ideal ‘get back on your horse’ test.
Erasmus needs his team to kick on from their June engagements in which they won two and lost as many. A series win over England was a good box to tick but his players now need to visibly put the Erasmus doctrine into action.
His senior players in particular need to step it up and the long awaited return to the Test fold from injury of Eben Etzebeth‚ and to a lesser extent Warren Whiteley‚ will be keenly watched.
Los Pumas isn’t so much turning a page as entering a new chapter under the recently installed coach Mario Ledesma. The former strongman of the Pumas’ pack has been charged with arresting his team’s slide‚ which now stands at just three wins in their last 23 clashes.
It is an appalling return for a team that was supposed to gravitate in performance to the game’s elite since joining the Sanzaar alliance in 2012.
Ledesma wants to bring greater consistency to his team. The only consistency the Pumas have had in the last while is in selection as they’ve largely pressed the same small group of professionals into battle in Tests and Super Rugby.
Ledesma wants to cast his net wider and got the Argentinian rugby bosses to relent on their exclusion of foreign-based players from the national setup. Tighthead Juan Figallo is the significant addition to Ledesma’s pack as the coach seeks consistency from the set phases.
When he was in charge of the same group of players in Super Rugby Ledesma lamented their inconsistency‚ particularly at the scrum.
“You can’t go from a 10 to a zero in the scrum. You at least have to win your own ball‚” he exasperated.
The experienced Figallo will be expected to bring stability to their set piece and he’ll have to roll up his sleeves in coming to grips with Tendai Mtawarira.
The Beast played with renewed vigour in the buildup to his 100th Test earlier this season but whether he can maintain that momentum remains to be seen.
Their confrontation will be one of the key features in this clash. So too‚ perhaps‚ the matchup between the respective flyhalves Handre Pollard and Nicolás Sanchez. The latter has been the Pumas’ talisman for some time‚ but that status is yet to be fully bestowed on Pollard.
This Rugby Championship‚ however‚ is an opportunity for him to fully entrench himself as one of the players the Springboks cannot do without.
He is part of a midfield axis next to Andre Esterhuizen and Lukhanyo Am who will take the ball into the heart of the Argentina defence‚ more or less to Sanchez’s outside shoulder.
The Sharks’ centre pairing’s familiarity with each other helped earn them the nod but their confrontational approach is an element Erasmus would no doubt like to see impact on proceedings.
With that midfield combination the Boks will probably be a little predictable‚ but it helps when you know what the opposition will bring to the table.
With so many familiar faces from the Jaguares outfit now campaigning for the national team and Ledesma also graduating to the top job at Los Pumas‚ it stands to reason that the Boks expect them to play a similar brand to what they served up in Super Rugby.
“I expect them to play like the Jaguares‚” said Erasmus matter-of-factly.
“There’s not a lot that can change in three weeks. They had the most running metres in Super Rugby. In Tests they’ll kick more. There will be more tactical kicking that we’ll have to handle‚” said the Bok coach.
In Sanchez they may have a player who can coolly pull the strings tactically‚ but the Jaguares certainly won’t hold back when opportunity beckons.
Fullback Emiliano Boffelli and right wing Bautista Delguy both ran in 10 tries in Super Rugby and displayed the uncanny ability to successfully counterattack from deep.
The Boks would like the Pumas to play from deep‚ but can they keep them there?
Willie le Roux; Makazole Mapimpi‚ Lukhanyo Am‚ André Esterhuizen‚ Aphiwe Dyantyi; Handré Pollard‚ Faf de Klerk; Warren Whiteley‚ Siya Kolisi (captain)‚ Francois Louw; Pieter-Steph du Toit‚ Eben Etzebeth; Frans Malherbe‚ Malcolm Marx‚ Tendai Mtawarira.
Bongi Mbonambi‚ Steven Kitshoff‚ Thomas du Toit‚ Marvin Orie‚ Marco van Staden; Embrose Papier‚ Lionel Mapoe‚ Damian Willemse.
Emiliano Boffelli; Bautista Delguy‚ Matías Moroni‚ Bautista Ezcurra‚ Ramiro Moyano; Nicolás Sánchez‚ Gonzalo Bertranou; Javier Ortega Desio‚ Marcos Kremer‚ Pablo Matera; Matías Alemanno‚ Guido Petti; Juan Figallo‚ Agustín Creevy (captain)‚ Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Diego Fortuny‚ Santiago García Botta‚ Santiago Medrano‚ Tomás Lavanini‚ Tomás Lezana; Martín Landajo‚ Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias‚ Juan Cruz Mallia.
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia)‚ Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)