South Africa: Robust Boks Lean in One Area for All Blacks

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18 September 2019

Cape Town — As was the case when the Springboks announced their 31-man squad for the 2019 Rugby World Cup , there was not a single surprise when coach Rassie Erasmus named his side for Saturday's titanic opener against the defending champion All Blacks in Yokohama.

The No 3 jersey was perhaps the only area of mild contention, but Trevor Nyakane's limited training time over the last week because of a knee niggle made the decision to start Frans Malherbe easier.

It is as strong as the Boks could possibly be.

The physicality of the pack stands out immediately, specifically from Nos 4 to 8, while Malcolm Marx, Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Duane Vermeulen and Franco Mostert are all menacing at the breakdown.

It is a combination that will force every other side in the tournament to take notice, and given how these players have performed in 2019, you would do well to find a more balanced and potentially destructive pack of brutes.

The forward cover off the bench is equally encouraging, where the front row of Tendai Mtawarira, Bongi Mbonambi and Nyakane could very easily start without the Boks losing much, if anything.

RG Snyman, meanwhile, is a man that 2007 World Cup-winning flyhalf Butch James believes will be one of South Africa's most important players at the tournament given his speed, strength and skill as an impact player.

The backline selection, perhaps less striking on the surface, was equally predictable.

The halfback pairing of Handre Pollard and Faf de Klerk is the major strength there, where pedigree and experience combine to give the Boks a stable base from which to launch.

At a SuperSport function in Johannesburg two weeks ago, a panel of former Springboks including John Smit, Odwa Ndungane and James gave their thoughts on South Africa's chances at the tournament.

All three agreed that Pollard was the most important player for the Boks in Japan, and with that in mind a look through the matchday 23 perhaps reveals one area of concern for the green and gold.

Frans Steyn , rich in experience and undoubtedly still immensely talented, is the flyhalf cover.

It is a position he very rarely plays for his club Montpellier in France and he has started just one Test match in the No 10 jersey. That came against Italy in Cape Town all the way back in 2008.

Because of his experience and perceived versatility, Steyn has moved ahead of Elton Jantjies in the Bok pecking order in 2019 and should something go horribly wrong with Pollard, he will have to slot in at playmaker and also take over the goal-kicking duties.

At that same SuperSport function, James spoke about the risks of going into a key match without specialist flyhalf cover on the bench. If it was a World Cup final, would Erasmus make the same decision? James didn't think so.

Before Steyn returned to the Bok set-up this year, Jantjies was comfortably second choice and there were pressure situations where Erasmus would shift Pollard to No 12 and introduce Jantjies for the last 20 minutes of the match.

It worked well, but that option seems to be firmly on the shelf for now.

Pollard, undoubtedly, is the main man for the Boks and so much hinges on him playing and kicking well.

The worry, though, is that the Boks will be thin at flyhalf if he is forced off the park for whatever reason.

Jantjies may not offer anything near what Steyn does on defence, but he has been largely impressive in Bok colours for a long time now and has the ability to dictate tempo and spark attacks.

Steyn, meanwhile, will be a pillar defensively and will look to kick the Boks into positions of territorial dominance.

But when last was he tested at No 10 in a high-pressure situation? It doesn't get much more high-pressure than the All Blacks in a World Cup.

That uncertainty is perhaps the only visible Bok frailty.

It obviously won't matter if Pollard stays fit, but this is a long tournament and if the Bok pivot felt fatigued or suffered a minor bump late on in a game, it would be nice to have the luxury of pulling him off.

Without specialist No 10 cover, that doesn't seem likely.

Steyn, in no time at all, has gone from being in the Bok wilderness to playing a potentially crucial role for his country at the World Cup.

He is, after all, the only one there who knows what it takes to win one of these things ...

Follow @LloydBurnard on Twitter ...

Teams:

South Africa

15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff

Substitutes: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Jesse Kriel

New Zealand

TBA

Source: Sport24

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