The likely selections of Pieter-Steph du Toit at flank and Frans Malherbe at tighthead could well improve the Springboks’ chances of physical dominance in the second Test against England, writes JON CARDINELLI in Bloemfontein.
Rassie Erasmus has confirmed that there will be a couple of ‘subtle’ changes to the team this week. Having watched the Boks train at Shimla Park on Monday and Tuesday, one can safely assume that Du Toit will start at blindside flank and Malherbe at tighthead prop.
On Monday, Erasmus said that he was concerned about Wilco Louw’s workload and indeed the amount of travel the player has endured over the past few weeks. Louw started against Wales in the USA on 2 June, and was subsequently rushed into the starting XV for the first Test against England after Trevor Nyakane failed a fitness test.
Louw should get a break this week, and Malherbe will be the new man to anchor the scrum. Malherbe was the first-choice No 3 at the 2015 World Cup, and may have retained that position if not for a series of injury setbacks in 2016 and 2017.
Some have asked if he is ready to return after his latest battle with a neck injury, but it’s clear that Erasmus and company are confident that Malherbe will stand up to scrutiny. While Thomas du Toit is highly rated by the coaches, it seems as if Erasmus prefers Pieter-Steph as an impact player at this stage.
The Springboks made a physical statement in their 42-39 win against England in Johannesburg last week. Despite the side’s relative lack of experience, and despite the lack of any established combination in the starting XV, the Boks still managed to bully England and secure the win.
That said, there’s been no sign of over-confidence since the Springboks arrived in Bloemfontein on Sunday. Erasmus, forwards coach Matt Proudfoot, and even the young lock RG Snyman have been measured in their dealings with the media.
The move to recruit Schalk Brits should pay dividends. The former Saracen knows a lot about the players in the England camp, and is believed to have a good understanding of England’s set-piece structures and calls.
Brits has alternated between running with the team and chatting to coaches at recent training sessions in Bloemfontein. Whether he plays or not this Saturday, he will have made a contribution to the team’s preparation.
It’s clear that the Springboks feel that the job is far from done, and that there is no real reason to celebrate as yet. Nobody in the Bok camp has forgotten about the first quarter of last Saturday’s match at Ellis Park. The defence leaked three tries and as many as 24 points during that period.
The Springboks believe that they could have done a better job at the breakdowns. It came as no surprise to see Erasmus, Jacques Nienaber and others hammering on about the defence and the breakdown at the training sessions on Monday and Tuesday.
Put simply, the Springoks will need to be a lot better in these departments on Saturday.
There’s been a lot of debate around the selection of Pieter-Steph du Toit at flank. The player himself told SA Rugby magazine in a recent interview that No 7 is his preferred position at present. Du Toit feels that it’s from this position where he can utilise all of his strengths to the best effect.
Du Toit may have played more at 7 than at 5 this season if not for injuries to his teammates at the Stormers. Indeed, if Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth were fit and available for the June Tests, then Franco Mostert and Snyman may have started against Wales in the USA while the likes of De Jager, Etzebeth and Du Toit featured in the starting side against England in Johannesburg.
Now that Du Toit has adequately recovered from that American sojourn, he should be brought back into the starting mix. A pack including Snyman, Mostert and Du Toit will certainly provide the Boks with a host of ball-carrying and lineout options.
Erasmus’ decision to bolster the Bok lineout is sound when one considers that lock Joe Launchbury is expected to return for England. The English press have billed the second Test as ‘the most important game of Eddie Jones’ tenure’. That could translate into a physical backlash by the tourists, and the Boks best be prepared.
It will be interesting to see how Erasmus goes about selecting his bench. With Du Toit starting at flank and providing cover at lock, there may be a chance to field two loose forwards in Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Jean-Luc du Preez among the reserves.
The Bok team to play England will be announced on Thursday.
Springboks (probable) – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Sikumbuzo Notshe, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Warrick Gelant.
Photo: Grant Pitcher/Gallo Images