Cape Town – Rassie Erasmus named his first Springbok squad on Wednesday morning ahead of Saturday’s clash against Wales in Washington, and it didn’t take long for the selections to make waves.
With 13 of the matchday squad uncapped at Test level – seven of those are in the starting line-up – there is some real concern among a few diehard South Africans that this Bok side is on a hiding to nothing this weekend.
“They’re handing out Bok caps like Chappies,” one of the self-proclaimed sporting experts on my club cricket WhatsApp group offered.
“Would we field this side against the All Blacks?” he continued.
Well, no, we wouldn’t.
This match, in all honesty, should not be happening.
The Boks should be using this time to focus all their attention on a three-match Test series against Eddie Jones’ England that has the potential to get a broken South African rugby public believing again.
Victory there and an encouraging start to the Erasmus era would go a long way towards restoring an element of pride to the Springbok jersey.
Instead, Erasmus’s first order of business is to send an army of warriors across time zones to do battle in a one-off match that SA Rugby agreed to in the hope of generating some much-needed income.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with finding ways to make money, but when it comes at the expense of the national side, then other options should surely be explored.
That said, we are where we are, and the match must be played.
And, in looking at the side that Erasmus has picked, I would say there is more reason to be excited than there is to be concerned.
The Springboks have a new coach and 13 new faces, and that ‘newness’ was desperately needed after two years of puzzling under former coach Allister Coetzee.
It had to be a complete upheaval, and the first signs are that it will be.
Yes, there is inexperience. Yes, there are better players who have been left at home. But in looking at the bigger picture, Erasmus has done about as well as he could have in this situation.
There are still the likes of Pieter-Steph du Toit, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Oupa Mohoje, Elton Jantjies and Jesse Kriel; players who have Test experience and are comfortable at this level, but the opportunity to give so many youngsters a taste of international rugby should be welcomed.
England is the immediate priority and, beyond that, the Boks need to get to a place where they can challenge at next year’s World Cup.
When one factors in this year’s Rugby Championship and another opportunity to close the gap on New Zealand, then the significance, or insignificance, of this random Wales hit-out is put into perspective.
On Saturday, several young players will be exposed to Test match rugby for the first time. It’s not about ‘handing out caps like Chappies’, it’s about widening the pool of players and giving Erasmus something to work with moving forward.
Starting from the back, this young side is exciting.
Curwin Bosch, so highly rated across the country, gets another chance in Springbok colours.
Travis Ismaiel has been impressive on the right wing for the Bulls in 2018, while the physical Andre Esterhuizen has long been tipped to break into the national set-up.
The scrumhalf stocks in South Africa are a concern at the moment, but Erasmus has three in his travelling squad who have never played Test rugby.
Ivan van Zyl starts having been solid for the Bulls this year, while on the bench 21-year-old Embrose Papier is a man who Bulls coach John Mitchell believes will be “world class”. Mitchell is backing this youngster to do big things, and this could be the start of something major.
On the bench, Warrick Gelant has an opportunity to stake his claim for England while Sharks playmaker Robert du Preez will make history if he gets on.
In the forwards, Kwagga Smith’s selection at No 6 is the headliner. He is a player who never rests, and he has commanded attention this season with a string of dominant performances. Analysing how he plays on Saturday will be as intriguing as anything else.
Big Dan du Preez is another exciting selection, while Mohoje has the chance to re-ignite his Springbok career.
Ralepelle, meanwhile, knows that he has the in-form Akker van der Merwe on the substitutes bench, and that creates an interesting dynamic heading into the England series where Bismarck du Plessis is lurking.
Ox Nche and Wilco Louw are the starting props, and the spotlight will be firmly on Nche, in particular, to see how he copes at this level. On the bench, there is the promising Thomas du Toit while Sikhumbuzo Notshe also comes with abundant energy.
There is a lot to look forward to.
The result may not go South Africa’s way. Some will sink and some will swim, but in the end Erasmus will see his youngsters thrown into the deep end and he will be able to make individual assessments heading into the England series.
It is a match that gives the Boks a chance to experiment, and that doesn’t happen very often in a world were results are everything. Embrace it.
15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit (captain), 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Ox Nche
Substitutes: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Robert du Preez, 23 Warrick Gelant