Thu, 04 Jun 2020

Bok RWC squad: Expect 'mundane Monday'!

23 Aug 2019, 22:10 GMT+10

Cape Town - For those who relish high drama, Monday afternoon's announcement of the 31-strong Springbok squad for RWC 2019 could prove an anti-climax.

But to the more cool-headed of rugby connoisseurs, it will simply confirm the steady hand Rassie Erasmus has had on the Bok tiller this year; that the ship isn't suddenly going to take a wildly zigzagging course when it comes to staffing choices for the tournament.

The final weekend of Currie Cup league play may not be an entirely futile exercise for aspirant late-chargers for berths in the Japan-bound party ... but there is also just as much of a likelihood that it is now too late for Erasmus's mind to be altered and it is simply a question on Monday of the proverbial envelope being opened on his already finalised names.

As it is, the head coach dropped enough hints - and in some cases even confirmations - at his press conference in the immediate aftermath of last weekend's Test against Argentina at Loftus for scribes to be able to work out his picks with no trouble at all in several positions.

Think, for example, of the established trio of resources in the critical, highly specialist positions of hooker and scrumhalf: there would be reason to be aghast if the group for the No 2 chore is suddenly disturbed to read anything but Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi and Schalk Brits, while the three "scrummies" will be the constantly-involved alliance this year of Faf de Klerk, Herschel Jantjies and Cobus Reinach.

Why would you wish to deviate out of the blue, either, from an anticipated, highly proven lock quartet who will be the envy of almost all other nations at the World Cup: Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager (those two both geared for their second RWCs), Franco Mostert and RG Snyman?

The overall stability, including clever rotation, of his troops has been a major reason for the Boks' unbeaten status in 2019 to this point, and Erasmus has enough fierce but entirely constructive competition and harmony within his present squad - even if it now has to be necessarily snipped a little - to make it almost illogical for late intrusions from left field.

Just three days out from the RWC squad revelation, a personal suspicion is that only four players may have reason (unless they quietly already know, either way) to sweat a little until Monday's live announcement on SuperSport at 15:00.

That group would comprise fullback Warrick Gelant, utility back Damian Willemse and loose forwards Kwagga Smith and Rynhardt Elstadt.

Willemse, 21, is the only one of those not yet to have seen some sort of service to the Test cause this year, due to a months-long knee injury, and involved in what some view as a too-late race now at domestic level for Western Province to force his way back into favour at the eleventh hour.

Bear in mind, though, that the dazzling young stepper, capable of serving several spots in a backline, had earned five caps in Erasmus's first season at the helm in 2018, so the coach is partial to his skills.

While his best bet at this stage may be "standby player" status for the World Cup, a particularly rousing, confident showing at flyhalf in WP's make-or-break Bloemfontein clash with the Cheetahs on Saturday might see him nose ahead of Gelant in the pecking order - if the Bulls man is, indeed, earmarked for a passage as things stand.

With or without the challenge of more versatile Willemse, Gelant might not be guaranteed a World Cup berth; he seems the likeliest fall-guy if Erasmus opts for a leaner backline arsenal (13 players) to facilitate a notably bigger stock (18) of pack members.

Smart money suggests that if Gelant does travel, then only one of Smith and Elstadt will make the cut in a loosie arsenal curtailed to five rather than six specialists.

If so, shouldn't it be Smith who goes to the Far East? Although the willing, emerging hard man Elstadt would be a little unlucky if omitted, the lighter, speedier ex-Sevens dynamo gives the Bok loose-forward department a valuable point of difference.

While my own, lone point of dissent with Erasmus would be in preferring either of Gelant or Willemse (the latter if he has a solid, productive shift at Free State Stadium) for the tournament and sacrificing Elstadt, this may well be the party of 31 he will name, refreshingly minus an awful lot of hullabaloo, on Monday:

Backs (13): 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.

Forwards (18): Pieter-Steph du Toit, Duane Vermeulen, Siya Kolisi (capt), Francois Louw, Rynhardt Elstadt, Kwagga Smith, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Franco Mostert, RG Snyman, Bongi Mbonambi, Malcolm Marx, Schalk Brits, Tendai Mtawarira, Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Trevor Nyakane, Vincent Koch.

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