Crashball Rugby's resident South African Graeme Peacock addresses England's summer tour from the Springboks perspective.
Here we look at South Africa versus England from the Springboks perspective in what is a vital series at the start of new coach Rassie Erasmus’ tenure.
The SA Rugby board has certainly given Erasmus a challenging start from a fixture point of view to begin his reign as the national coach. Erasmus and half the squad flew to Washington to play Wales the week before the series against England. The board at SA Rugby certainly got this one wrong and the fixture should never have been agreed. The game and result from a Springbok point of view was extremely disappointing and hopefully all parties when arranging these types of fixtures going forward have learned a lesson.
On to England and a three match home series, which will be captivating to watch for both sets of supporters as well the neutral. England under Eddie Jones have been superb until a recent disappointing Six Nations campaign earlier this year where they finished fifth after successive losses to Scotland, France and Ireland.
For the Springboks, it is interesting times in South African rugby and there is a certain sense of optimism in the appointment of Erasmus. The former Springbok flanker takes over the national side after a disappointing time under Allister Coetzee. Erasmus who had a successful stint in Munster has brought his trusted lieutenant Jacques Nienaber with him in to the Springbok set up and the fans will be hoping for an upturn in results.
There is a sense that SA Rugby is providing all the tools necessary for Erasmus to be successful and that lessons have been learned from the Coetzee era. The new coach has been given a whopping six-year contract up to the World Cup in France 2023. The temporary scrapping of the 30 cap overseas rule will allow the new Springbok coach to select who he wants from the various leagues around the world, however this will be bring expectations between the four white lines.
Captaincy was a concern coming in to the series with both previous captains Warren Whiteley and Eben Etzebeth out with injury for this series. There have been numerous debates around who the captain should be but the honour has gone to flanker Siya Kolisi. The Stormers captain is an extremely talented loose forward who was in outstanding form in 2017. He is well respected from a leadership point of view and is currently saying all the right things. The England series is a baptism of fire and if successful could set him up for an extended run as captain.
Injuries are part and parcel of the modern game and the Springboks have a few key players out of the series against Eddie Jones’ charges. Warren Whiteley the rangy No 8 who captained the Springboks last year will be missed both from a mobility and leadership point of view. Eben Etzebeth the second row enforcer is another whose physicality in the loose and experience at lineout time will be missed this series.
However the most disappointing of the injuries is to Malcolm Marx. The Lions hooker shot to fame last year with some impressive performances standing head and shoulders above all on the park at times. Marx is up there with the best No 2’s in the world and his bullocking runs and turning over opposition possession will be sorely missed.
On a positive note, the players that have been included from overseas make interesting reading and there is no doubt that they will add value and experience to the current Springbok squad. It is expected that all five overseas players will play a big role in this series otherwise there would have been no need to recall them.
Duane Vermeulen the Thor-like No 8 is a world class loose forward who has been plying his trade in Toulon. The 31 year old carries strongly and will allow the Boks to get over the advantage line. His tackling and slowing down of opposition ball will be key against a good England pack.
Faf De Klerk who is currently playing in the Aviva Premiership has had a great season for Sale Sharks. The nuggety scrumhalf will add some needed pace and swift distribution from the base of the scrum in what is a problem position for the home team. No one has taken hold of the Springbok No 9 jersey since Fourie Du Preez’s retirement.
Another Aviva Premiership player in Wasps Willie Le Roux will add some much needed experience to a back three that struggled last year. The No 15 is extremely talented and is a bit of an enigma, Erasmus will be hoping that Le Roux will be firing coming in to this series against players that he is familiar with.
The last two players from overseas are the Montpellier duo of Bismarck Du Plessis and Francois Steyn. There have been calls for these two players to be included in the Springbok squad for some time. Du Plessis who is an abrasive hooker will be a good replacement for Marx and will be contesting aggressively in the loose as always. It remains to be seen where Steyn will be utilised but inside centre seems to be the chosen route. He will add some much needed experience to the backline and will be able to slot any long-range penalties if required.
There is some really exciting home-based talent to look for in this series and the wingers in particular will have some fresh new blood after struggling out wide in the Test campaign last year. Newcomer Aphiwe Dyantyi and Warrick Gelant have some pace and know where the try line is, they will be hoping for some ball in space to show what they can do.
A problem position for the Springboks has been fly-half and Handre Pollard will be hoping to cement himself in to the No 10 starting role. The talented Bulls pivot has all the attributes of a world class No 10 but his playing time has been stop-start due to some time on the sidelines because of injury. His game management is fantastic and just needs a run of games in the green and gold jersey.
Injuries to Lood De Jager and Etzebeth means that Gloucester-bound Franco Mostert should be starting in the second row. Mostert has an unbelievable engine on him, he gets through a mountain of work and will show the Cherry & White fans what they will be getting in the new season.
There are some question marks over the various combinations for the Springboks and Erasmus will be hoping his side hits the ground running whoever is chosen. The loose trio and centre combination is not cast in stone so there will be some mixing and matching throughout the series as Erasmus tries to get his combinations right while trying to win a series against England.
One player that will be starting is Tendai Mtawarira otherwise known as the Beast, the loosehead prop will earn his 100th cap during the series all going well. The Sharks front ranker has been a fantastic player for both his province and country. He has some mileage on the clock and will be using all of this experience against a competitive England tight five.
This series is the start of a new era and one that the Springbok fans will be hoping to see an upturn in results. The Wales Test on Saturday proved there is a lot of work to be done even though they were missing a whole host of first choice players. Erasmus will be looking to get the building blocks for his Springbok side going forward from the games against England. By the end of this series there will certainly be lots of questions but he will be hoping to have a few more answers with the Rugby World Cup in Japan only fifteen months away.
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