Plenty of questions for Rassie but maybe some answers too
Bok coach makes no bones about getting what he wants
If we’ve learnt anything in the first six weeks of Rassie Erasmus’s tenure as Springboks coach, it’s that he gets what he wants.
From handpicking his most important lieutenants, to important Bok alignment camps and securing himself an unheard of six-year contract that will encompass two World Cups and a series against the British & Irish Lions in 2021, no one is saying “no” to him.
Of course there are performance clauses and key performance indicators that Erasmus must meet to see out his contract, but it’s not like he is expected to make the Boks unbeatable in the next two years.
The fact that he was given a six-year term after two miserable years under Allister Coetzee is a tacit acknowledgment from the suits at SA Rugby that winning Rugby World Cup 2019 is not a realistic expectation. The message appears to be: “Build a 2023 World Cup winning team and don’t embarrass us in Japan next year”.So when Erasmus said that the 30-cap rule was under discussion, take it to mean that the 30-cap rule has been scrapped. Rassie gets what he wants.
The policy of allowing the Bok coach to only select overseas-based players who have 30 Test caps or more was only introduced last year and will be scrapped in the coming weeks, ending a very short-lived existence.
Last year Coetzee desperately wanted Saracens’ tighthead Vincent Koch for the latter part of the Rugby Championship, but he was denied by the rule, which his bosses refused to waive. Erasmus will have no such issues this year.
Which brings us to the question of which overseas-based players, with both more and fewer than 30 Test caps, are likely to feature for the Boks in 2018?
Bath openside Francois Louw, Toulon No 8 Duane Vermeulen, Montpellier centre Jan Serfontein, Toulon wing JP Pietersen, and Wasps fullback Willie le Roux are all likely to be recalled. But they have all played more than 30 Tests anyway.
Of the players with fewer than 30 caps, Erasmus now has much more scope for filling holes he is unable to plug with locally based players.Koch is a handy man to have in the squad and will add depth to tighthead where Wilco Louw and Frans Malherbe are at the front of the queue.
Scrumhalves Faf de Klerk and Cobus Reinach, of Sale and Northampton respectively, will add options to the slim locally based halfback pickings, while Francois Hougaard (Worcester) could add versatility.
Ulster’s Marcell Coetzee, who has 28 Test caps, is going to be the major beneficiary of the rule reversal, although he is not yet fully fit after a serious knee injury. But once he is back, he will definitely feature in Erasmus’ thinking.
With hooker Bongi Mbonambi injured, Erasmus might surprise by picking the marauding Wasps hooker Ashley Johnson for the squad. Johnson played three Tests in 2011, as a looseforward, but has forged a good career at the London club in the front row and was influential in their run to the Premiership final last season.Another bolter who could benefit from the change is Munster openside Chris Cloete, who is uncapped at Test level. Erasmus and defence coach Jacques Nienaber both hold Cloete in high regard and it’s no surprise that he was a man who started in the latter stages of Erasmus’ time as coach at the Irish club.
Cloete’s skills and strength at the breakdown and being a complete mongrel over the ball are highly valued, especially as Louw is at the back end of his career and no specialist opensides have emerged locally.
Similarly Erasmus might turn to Munster and former Stormers lock Jean Kleyn, who has also been impressive for the Irish club, although there are enough good locks locally pushing for places.
JD Schickerling’s long-term injury has opened a space for another lock to understudy Lood de Jager, Franco Mostert, and Pieter-Steph du Toit (assuming Eben Etzebeth isn’t back from injury by June). The Bulls’ RG Snyman has put in some huge performances and should earn the nod over Kleyn, but one more injury could open the door for the latter.
Considering these options Erasmus has created an environment for himself and for the Boks that increases their chances of success.
Erasmus will encounter the usual problems such as lack of preparation time, but given he will have the choice of SA’s best from around the globe and time to mould a team, he can have no complaints. And in time, no excuses either.