Mark Keohane: Rassie can pick 2 Bok teams of equal strength
South Africans can prepare for the most radically innovative Springbok squad selections that speak to youthfulness and excellence and also speak beautifully to a transformed landscape because there will be rugby rationale to every selection.
Springbok coach and SA Rugby's director of rugby Rassie Erasmus will this weekend confirm a squad of 40 players to prepare for the season’s opening two Tests against Wales (June 2) and England (June 9).
He will then trim the squad to 30 players for the final two Tests against England in Bloemfontein (June 16) and Cape Town (June 23) respectively.
There has never been a Springbok squad selection as eagerly anticipated - and the result will match the hype. This will be the squad announcement that finally matches intent with action.
Every one of the 40 players will be playing in those two Tests and that is confirmation that Erasmus believes every one of his squad is capable of Test rugby. He is said to have already selected the respective match 23s and the word is he wouldn’t say with any certainty which of the two teams would win if they fronted each other.
Erasmus, since his appointment as Bok coach, has consistently spoken of the quality of rugby players in South Africa. Injury to frontline selections Warren Whiteley, Eben Etzebeth and Malcolm Marx hasn’t dulled Erasmus’s enthusiasm or belief in the pool of talent that will define his first season in charge.
Erasmus is a believer in the dynamic of 23 players and how they complement an 80-minute performance.
A lot was made of the 2015 All Blacks being so brilliant in the final 20 minutes when taking teams apart.
Teams would be within a score on the hour, or even ahead, but would end up losing by 20-plus points.
In 2016 and 2017 the All Blacks weren’t as rampant in the final 20 minutes, and in many Tests the opposition finished stronger. Some questioned the staleness of Steve Hansen as a coach; others said the All Blacks weren’t as good and there was even a view that they were over trained.
But there was more accuracy in the analysis of the All Blacks match reserves in 2015, when compared to 2016 and 2017. Sonny Bill Williams and Beauden Barrett were coming off the bench in 2015, as was the likes of hooker Codie Taylor and loose-forward Victor Vito, who in the last two years has consistently been among the best in French Top 14 and European Rugby.
The All Blacks did not have the class of Williams and Barrett waiting for 40 minutes to be introduced from the bench in 2017. It is why teams stayed with them longer than 60 minutes.
Erasmus, in every media interview, emphasises that a game is won over 80 minutes (and beyond), and is won by 23 players. He is to rugby what Billy Beane was to baseball; very unique and very strategic about his playing assets, the role of each of these player assets and how crucial each one is to the overall strategy.
One player’s 30 minutes is the making of the other’s 50-minute effort. In that order.
The same two players don’t necessarily give the same result if the formula is tampered with to accommodate the more traditional starting XV belief that to start means you are better than the player whose potency serves the team better in the final quarter of the game.
Those close to Erasmus in his daily work environment talk of the squad (to be announced) being dynamic and so different to the predictable conservatism of Springbok squad selections.
There apparently isn’t an out an out first team and not one player has been selected without consideration given to who best serves that player’s skill set on the inside and outside.
There is said to be so much logic to the combinations and those privy to his thinking have told me there is so much potential in both match-day squads.
This, ladies and gentlemen, I was told will be the most significant selections announced when the respective 23 pieces are confirmed to make up the two match-day puzzles.
There will be a generational shift in the 2018 Springboks and there will also be a collective that speaks to rugby excellence of all colours and cultures.
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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