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'In the long run, he would fit into any international team around the world'

BY Philip Bendon  ·  Tuesday May 28, 2024

With less than a month to go to the opening test of the 2024 season for the reigning World Champion Springboks, the usual debate has been sparked about who will get the first crack at donning the famous green and gold strip.

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As ever with the Boks, the competition for places is red hot, with certain positions being more competitive than others.

Chief among the list of fiercest battles is that of the backrow, an area that South African Rugby continues to be blessed in.

Historically, the Bok’s success has been built on an uncompromising trio around the base of the scrum, and this season will be no different.

Finding the right balance for this combination is where the challenge truly lies for head coach Rassie Erasmus and his coaching staff as they begin their preparations for the season opener against Wales at Twickenham Stadium.

For the past decade, one position in particular has been dominated by one player in the stoic figure of one Duane Vermeulen. Now retired, the 37-year-old double World Cup winner has left a gaping hole at the back of the Bok scrum. This absence has been made even more drastic by the unavailability of Leicester Tiger’s star Jasper Wiese, who has been slapped with a six-match ban for his tackle on Exeter’s Ross Vintcent.

Jasper Wiese to miss summer tests following giant ban

With the presumed first choice player unavailable, Erasmus will need to expand his horizons by looking at which player can make the step up to start the season.

Offering his view on the selection conundrum facing Erasmus, former Springbok loose forward Bob Skinstad offered his view on which player should get the first crack at the shirt.

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“I think the important thing, as always, for us South Africans is that we’ve got a number of loose forward options to choose from,” He said before focusing on the position specifically, “With the number of eights, I mean in terms of recent performances, there was that long-range try from Phepsi Buthelezi, who can play a number of positions.”

After name-checking the Sharks’ backrow, Skinstad looked at other options that are available to Erasmus.

“It just reminded me of how much talent there is out there and talent to burn. So I think, you know, are we going to see the evolution of Evan Roos from a general squad player into a player that can step into that role permanently?

“Or are we going to see a guy like Phepsi become a person that is always picked? There are some interesting players leading the stats.

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“For me, the number of carries that we’ve seen from loose forwards and the number of line-out steals, the number of defenders beaten, we’re seeing a lot of loose forwards in that space. Again, they’re out there with Dayimani (Hacjivah), who can also play eight, so I don’t know who the individual is going to be.

“I am sure that Rassie is following both the stats and the performances very closely, but I think you’re 100% right with Jasper out. It’s something that the guys are going to have to put front and centre.

“I think those are probably the leaders at the moment. I mean, I think you know I would say Nortje and a couple of the guys from the Bulls side are very good in the basic game, but are we going to see someone breaking the mould a little bit? Well, South Africa is the place where we can send players to do that.”

Returning to the topic of Roos, a player many believe has the natural talent to become the first choice number eight in the long run, Skinstad highlighted the intangible characteristics that make the Stormers star a diamond in the rough.

“I think he’s a great player who plays with his heart on his sleeve, and we’ve seen, you know, he’s given away one or two penalties in that space.

“I haven’t seen it as a persistent problem; he’s super passionate, and that’s the bit you can’t coach.

“The bit you can coach is the discipline and the conversations you need to have with players about what they’re doing. In a broad respect, I certainly don’t think that that’s a problem for him.

“In the long run, he would fit into any international team around the world at the moment, and, in particular, people want to play with people who want to play with them. They want to play with quality players who can be around when, as they say, ‘the dust settles,’ and you can look at the environment and say well, that guy was contributing from minute one to minute eighty.’

When asked if the form that players are showing in the BKT United Rugby Championship would be enough to displace more seasoned veterans, Skinstad said, “It’s a tough one, and it’s a good question.

“Will Rassie place focus on it? Obviously, he will because the URC is hugely important to the South African teams, and they’re playing against the starting line-up of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, who all certainly have quality players. So, definitely, he would place a huge emphasis on that.”

Highlighting the factors that he believes Erasmus considers when selecting, Skinstad said of his former playing rival, “I think the kind of player you know, Rassie’s got a fantastic model where he goes for the right player as opposed to the best player. So that might be a factor.

“He might want someone who fits into the pattern that he wants to play, or he might want someone who contributes in a different way than other players or brings something extra to the table.

“I think we’ve got a number of loose forwards who can do that, and we know that we’ve had ball-carrying number sevens, ball-stealing number sixes, sort of rangy linking number eights and a mix of the two.

“So I don’t know who he’s going to go for, but it’s a great question because I think it’ll be more determined by the makeup of his squad, and I’m almost certain that he knows probably 90% of who he wants to pick in the loose forwards.

“He’ll be using these games (URC Play-Offs) to make the big decisions for the last guys left in that group of loosies.”

Watch the exclusive reveal-all episode of Walk the Talk with Ardie Savea as he chats to Jim Hamilton about the RWC 2023 experience, life in Japan, playing for the All Blacks and what the future holds. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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