JOHANNESBURG – Rassie Erasmus has some big selection decisions to make in the next couple of days. Luckily he’s got time on his side before the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals are contested next weekend.
The Boks booked their place in the last eight yesterday when they dispatched Canada without too much hassle. Earlier outings (and wins) against Namibia and Italy went according to plan and the All Blacks game first-up was always going to be a 50/50 affair.
It matters little now as the Boks are where they want to be – in the quarters – where they will face either Ireland, Scotland or Japan in that game. They’ll only know on Sunday who their opponents will be.
So far, Cheslin Kolbe has been the big star for the Boks. The little winger with the big heart has been superb in all departments for the Boks and is certainly one of the standout players in Japan. It has been quite amazing to see how Kolbe has gone from being a Bok outcast, who wasn’t ever really considered good enough to play Test rugby by Heyneke Meyer and Allister Coetzee, to being the star of the team.
Written off by many when he left Cape Town a few years ago to play in France, Kolbe has, in the space of a few months, become not only a Bok hero, but a world star, who is respected, feared and admired.
Also starring so far for the Boks have been Makazole Mapimpi, Sbu Nkosi, Elton Jantjies, Cobus Reinach, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Lood de Jager, RG Snyman and Bongi Mbonambi. They’ve all starred at some point, many of them, admittedly, against opposition not of the highest quality.
Other players have been close to hitting top form and this is why Erasmus has some big decisions to make going into the play-offs.
Willie le Roux, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk, Duane Vermeulen, Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi and Malcolm Marx are all big-name players who on most days would be certainties for a first-choice Bok team. They all started against New Zealand in game one, too. However, none of them have moved into top gear yet and Erasmus will hope they hit that top form now when it matters most.
The Boks have been generally good at the World Cup up to now, but if truth be told not every man has played to his full potential. The scary thing is that when they do all click the Boks could be a seriously dangerous animal.
Pushing hard now for a “first team” look-in from the “dirt-trackers” are the likes of Herschel Jantjies, Cobus Reinach, Elton Jantjies, Nkosi, Snyman (to start) and Schalk Brits (as first choice cover for Mbonambi). Heck, even the versatile Damian Willemse could be a surprise pick to play off the bench next week.
The Boks are where they want to be at this stage of the 2019 World Cup. They now, crucially, have a good few days off before the quarter-finals and can get some much needed rest. The first, easier part of the Japan adventure has been successfully negotiated; next up is the real deal, the knockouts and where the contenders will be separated from the pretenders.
So far I’d give the Boks a 60 percent pass mark; that’s all. Erasmus must from now on forget about a “first choice” and a “B-team” and pick only his in-form men, whoever they are, for the knock-out games. The good news is the Bok boss is in a position right now that no matter who he picks, those players look like they’ll all deliver the goods; that’s how strong this Bok squad is.