Springboks to box clever in Rugby Championship
By choosing a 35-man squad for the Rugby Championship and clearly indicating players such as the uncapped Damian Willemse will feature against Argentina‚ coach Rassie Erasmus gave a glimpse of the hand he wants to play.
After initially suggesting that he would split the squad into an A and B team‚ Erasmus later dismissed that idea‚ but the Boks are still set to box clever to meet their stated objectives.
“We are consistently aiming for three things: winning‚ transforming and to build depth and experience in the squad.
"Winning is always the primary objective‚ but we also have a long-term goal of building towards the World Cup‚” Erasmus said.
There is a sneaking suspicion he might employ a similar tactic to June when he sent a ‘weaker’ squad to Washington to play Wales while the bulk of the ‘first’ team stayed in SA to prepare for England.
The Boks lost to Wales but won the series against England‚ so the means justified the end result.
A full strength Boks could face Argentina in Durban on August 18‚ with the bulk of the fringe players heading to Mendoza for the rematch a week later.
That would spare the spine of the team an arduous journey with an away leg to Australasia to follow while also building playing capacity.
“We aren’t in such a privileged position where we can split up our squad into a so-called A and B side‚" Erasmus said at the announcement of his squad for the Rugby Championships.
“Currently‚ we have quite a few injuries in key positions‚ and if you look at the number of caps in the squad‚ it would be too much of a risk to do that.
“However‚ I am aware of the fact that when you play Argentina home and away‚ and then fly to Australia or New Zealand‚ it’s a lot of travel to contend with‚ particularly when coming up against the best teams in the world‚ who are sitting waiting for you as fresh as a daisy.
“We do want to be creative in managing our players’ workload‚ and while it would have been ideal to maybe send a few extra guys straight to New Zealand [before the others]‚ I don’t think we have that luxury at the moment.”
But not sending players ahead to Australia to acclimatize is not the same as keeping 10 or so key players in SA to save themselves for away Tests against the Wallabies and the All Blacks.
Of course‚ sending a team with little experience to Mendoza could be asking for trouble and a lot might depend on what happens in Durban.
If the Boks struggle in their Rugby Championship opener then Erasmus might be forced to put all hands on deck for the return leg against the Pumas.
But if they win comfortably in Durban‚ he could target the Wallabies in Brisbane with the luxury of three weeks between the Kings Park match and the encounter at the Suncorp Stadium.
Although all these scenarios could be viewed as too much tinkering‚ Erasmus has always been adamant that with so few Tests (only 15 remain) before the World Cup next year‚ he needs to find three players in every position.
And that means not always playing his full strength team.