The inclusion of players such as Gio Aplon, Ruhan Nel, Cheslin Kolbe, Sergeal Petersen and Schalk Brits indicates a willingness to think differently when it comes to Bok selection, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Coach Rassie Erasmus has openly admitted that he hasn’t always got it right when it comes to his selections this year.
He acknowledged as much when the Boks plunged to back-to-back away defeats against Argentina and Australia, and was happy to cop some criticism when late substitutions conspired against the Boks as they gave up a healthy lead against the All Blacks at Loftus.
Not all of his decisions are beyond reproach. One has to question the exact thinking around the inclusion of veteran Brits, who has featured in just one Test this year, while otherwise fulfilling what has effectively become a player-coach role.
The fact remains that the 37-year-old really needs to hold down a position first and foremost as a player or there can be no justification for him occupying a squad berth that could be more than deservedly taken by Currie Cup final Man of the Match Akker van der Merwe.
Yet, there appears to be a longer-term plan in mind when it comes to Brits, who is seen to have the experience and leadership that can prove to be a trump card for the Boks in the lead-up to next year’s World Cup.
One thing is certain though. It was an extremely bold left-field selection to lure Brits out of retirement, and instead of taking up studies at a renowned UK university, he will now be turning out for the Stormers in Super Rugby next year.
Just like Brits, there is no doubt that Aplon is another veteran who would have thought his Bok career was well and truly over. The fullback last played for the Boks in 2012, and will be nearly 37 years old when the 2019 World Cup rolls around.
Erasmus is unfazed. He wants another experienced overseas player to provide a guiding hand in a youthful back three. Any way you look at it, this is another out-of-the-box selection that not many Bok coaches would be brave enough to make in the midst of their first year in charge.
It was a similar story when Kolbe received a call-up out of the blue midway through the Rugby Championship. Here was a player who had been overlooked by every previous Bok coach, and yet Erasmus recognised Kolbe’s skills development in France, and chucked him into the deep end.
Over the course of four Test appearances this year, there is no doubt that Kolbe has swum rather than sunk. He is the sort of player who Erasmus looks to be increasingly drawn to. Someone who boasts an insatiable work rate, high intensity and a dash of X factor.
It’s the attributes that contributed to the call-up of Nel, who has honed his game in the Springbok Sevens set-up, but is yet to go through a full Super Rugby season.
Petersen is another uncapped Bok bolter who has cracked the nod after a standout Currie Cup campaign in which he demonstrated his searing pace and clinical finishing ability.
It’s clear that Erasmus is looking for players who offer that little something different. He’s not willing to rule out a player based on age, size, experience or where he plays his rugby.
The Bok coach wants players who can contribute in more ways than one both on and off the field. He’s got limited time to prepare for the fast-approaching World Cup, and knows that he needs to cast his net as wide as possible before cutting a few catches loose.
It’s a bold approach, and one that comes with both risk and reward. Not every selection will pay off – we have already seen that – but Erasmus has unequivocally demonstrated a desire to at least have courage in his convictions.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images
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