Except for the minor distractions of Aphiwe Dyantyi’s positive test for a banned substance and Eben Etzebeth’s alleged involvement in a weekend scuffle, it says much for the clarity of Rassie Erasmus’ selection policy that there were hardly any questions over the make-up of his World Cup squad.
In fact, there were only two intriguing (one can hardly use the word controversial) talking points, which the Springbok coach answered with aplomb anyway.
Why did Kwagga Smith get the nod ahead of Rynhardt Elstadt?
It was just a really tough call. We always planned to take five loose forwards to the tournament, but we decided to pick a few more in the build-up because of some injury doubts, like Siya (Kolisi). I thought Rynhardt would be a good replacement for Siya specifically if he didn’t manage to regain fitness. We planned for a few more possible injuries and they simply didn’t happen, which we’re grateful for. Rynhardt played really well, but it’s one of those things.
One thing we have to remember is that our selection policy from the start was that we would eye locally-based players first. Kwagga was a guy that put up his hand throughout Super Rugby, playing at six of eight against quality opposition. When he got his chance, he never disappointed. His form has been great. It’s the first time I’ve been able to coach him for an extended period and I can tell you he’s a great team man. If there’s a close-run competition between a locally-based and overseas-based player, the local will be given preference. It was easy to include Kwagga.
Why hasn’t Frans Steyn started a Test in 2019 despite obviously being earmarked to go to Japan?
To be honest, since I spoke to him in France last year, I could see he was really committed to the national cause. He was burning with desire. Full disclosure, Frans only would’ve missed out if he picked up an injury. I’ve coached him and I know what we have in him. He’s the only player in this group with the experience of winning a World Cup (in 2007). He brings experience and cover at 10, 12 and 15.
To have Frans on the bench was more a case of seeing how Andre Esterhuizen would perform. In our previous five World Cup campaigns, there have been various players who didn’t make the initial squad and then were called up due to injuries. Four of those times, it’s been inside centres. As a result, I wanted to see where Andre was at. It wasn’t a case of seeing whether Frans could make it.