Rugby 28.8.2018 09:12 am

Four major problem positions for the Springboks

South Africa's Springboks Handre Pollard strikes a penalty shot during the Rugby Championship 2018 test match at Malvinas Argentinas stadium in Mendoza, some 1050 km west of Buenos Aires, Argentina on August 25, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Andres Larrovere

South Africa's Springboks Handre Pollard strikes a penalty shot during the Rugby Championship 2018 test match at Malvinas Argentinas stadium in Mendoza, some 1050 km west of Buenos Aires, Argentina on August 25, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Andres Larrovere

If national coach Rassie Erasmus thought he had most of his combinations nailed before the tour to Australasia, the Mendoza fiasco would’ve changed his tune.

In the aftermath of last weekend’s messy loss to Argentina in Mendoza, Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus admitted that his initial plans are now “out of the window”.

Elaborating on that thought, he explained that he’d wanted to test some of his depth on the tour to Australasia.

Now that won’t happen.

The problem with that is if the Tests against Argentina wasn’t “experimentation” then most of the players picked in the last two weeks could be considered first-choice candidates.

And some of them didn’t crown themselves in glory.

So, if anything, the Tests against the Wallabies and All Blacks will still be about exploring who actually are the best players in their positions.

Here are the four problem positions.

CENTRE

The theory behind picking Lukhanyo Am and Andre Esterhuizen is a sound one.

The duo have gelled superbly over the last two years at the Sharks and conventional wisdom tells us that and established domestic combination can work well at international level too – take Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield for example.

But doubts remain.

Am’s start to his international career has been lukewarm except for a fine performance in Durban two weeks ago, while Esterhuizen’s bulk can’t mask the fact that he lacks creativity for a No 12.

Both men’s defensive prowess remain, at best, iffy and pundits called them out for being naive in Mendoza.

However, it seems unlikely that Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel would be a major improvement anyway.

Jan Serfontein’s absence is writ large.

RIGHT WING

The knee injury Makazole Mapimpi suffered early last Saturday was a hammer blow to Erasmus’ plans.

He already had to make due without S’bu Nkosi, whose foot injury will only see him return in about a month’s time, and now will hope Mapimpi recovers in time.

The Sharks flyer has been described as the most improved player in the Bok setup and it showed in the last few months.

Lionel Mapoe deputised well for him in Mendoza but one wonders if playing wing is merely a bonus.

After all, given South Africa’s midfield problems, the Lions stalwart surely needs to be considered in his favoured position of outside centre?

Can Lwazi Mvovo be slotted in against those two heavyweight teams without having played a Test this year?

FLYHALF

This position wasn’t supposed to be a problem.

Handre Pollard was going to enjoy his newfound fitness and settle in, while Elton Jantjies was going to be an established deputy.

The dynamic has changed.

Pollard’s poor goal kicking seems to have affected his confidence, leading him to leave his decision-making burden on Faf de Klerk.

And a Bok side without a flyhalf or inside centre providing direction is a ponderous one.

Does Erasmus back Pollard go get out of his slump or grants Jantjies the chance to prove his critics wrong?

Or will the talented Damian Willemse be thrown in at the deep end as a sort of saviour?

EIGHTHMAN

Warren Whiteley is a great guy, a great captain and a good fit for the Lions.

But he lacks presence at international level, even if he tries his best.

It doesn’t make him a bad player, it just makes him a player not quite suitable for the highest level.

The Boks are missing Duane Vermeulen and have also been robbed of the opportunity to groom Cyle Brink in a similar role through injury.

Shifting Siya Kolisi again seems unlikely and unnecessary given how the No 7 jersey seems a good fit, even if No 8 could grant him other freedoms too.

Instead, maybe it’s time to revert to a successful Allister Coetzee trick in making Francois Louw an 8, allowing Kolisi to stay in a familiar position.

Undoubtedly though, Vermeulen needs to return speedily as that’s only a stop-gap.

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