These Boks are Rassie’s ‘BaaBaas’ … minus revelry!
Cape Town - It could almost be mistaken for some sort of SA Barbarians combination.
To be led by the 38-year-old, vastly-travelled marauding hooker Schalk Brits, the comprehensively rejigged Springbok team for Saturday’s non-Rugby Championship Test against Argentina at Loftus is marked by the unfamiliarity of virtually all the key positional combinations.
It is in that respect that a BaaBaas feel becomes relevant … the major difference being that those occasions tend to be marked by the generous degree of bonhomie, not unaccompanied by liquid pleasures, in the lead-up phase to the game and immediate aftermath.
But this remains an altogether more serious, World Cup preparatory-geared exercise for both protagonists: the Pumas, for one thing, will be desperate to get into a winning mode after a nought-from-three Championship and heavy reverse to the Bok “premier team” in Salta only last weekend.
As for the Boks, this is a fascinating opportunity for an array of peripheral players – “make or break” in some cases for RWC passages, in the crystal-clear words of Rassie Erasmus – to secure their statuses with storming displays if possible.
Some traditionalists may frown on the head coach’s all-change policy for the Pretoria date, the last on home soil before departure for Japan, which retains Test status despite the B-side theme in many instances to his personnel.
But it is also very much part of the greater mission of ensuring that the most blue-chip elements of the Bok cause are cocooned in best physical and mental shape now for the rigours of the major jamboree in the Far East.
South Africa gratifyingly landed the annual southern-hemisphere bragging rights title in Argentina, following an earlier fixture on another different continent, so a vast summoning of “fresh legs” for Saturday is entirely justifiable, really.
Besides, the so hearteningly obvious, squad-wide hunger at present ensures that the players getting their opportunities this weekend will be desperate to either maintain their places in the pecking order, or even hike them.
This is certainly no “festival” match.
While Erasmus has taken the risk of knowing the possibility that the starting XV could take a while to gel, it is also not exactly a bunch of callow youngsters all thrown together: the side features some hardened, proven combatants at all levels like Marcell Coetzee, Lood de Jager, Cobus Reinach and Jesse Kriel.
No less importantly, this is another of the shrinking range of matches now in which last season’s regular captain, Siya Kolisi, can confirm his readiness for World Cup duty after many weeks on the side-lines through injury, although the evergreen Brits takes the reins for this one.
The likelihood that Kolisi will only be deemed ready to play a half -- or perhaps less, Erasmus has pointed out -- explains why the Bok brains trust have taken the unusual step of naming a 6-2 bench split in strong favour of forward resources.
But one of the substitutes is the tearaway loose forward Kwagga Smith, a Sevens expert naturally versed in the needs and pace required for attacking play, so him doing duty if absolutely necessary behind the scrum at an advanced stage of the contest would hardly look a crime against humanity.
As for the rawness of the various positional combos on Saturday from a Bok perspective – only the midfield pairing of Andre Esterhuizen and Kriel have previously started together as a Test alliance – Erasmus will be pinning his hopes on compensation coming through sheer collective resolve to perform well, and the fact that his troops are all part of a greater party increasingly well-drilled in his needs and the stiffening, healthy sense of “we’re all in this together”.
That said, the Argentineans will have taken note of the highly experimental look to their Bok foes, and perhaps be doubly interested in registering what would remain a mild upset if they can manage to turn the tables after deflating events for them in Salta.
In their guise as the Jaguares only a few months back, remember, they came from behind to knock over the Bulls 22-20 in Super Rugby at the very same venue …
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