Cape Town – Helped by his level of experience, Pieter-Steph du Toit shapes up as probably the only starting player from the Springboks’ 22-20 loss to Wales in Washington to push strongly for ongoing deployment in the first Test against England on Saturday.
Even then, the temporary Bok captain from the disappointing United States exercise – both from a playing quality and atmosphere-related perspective – faces a serious challenge for his No 5 jersey from Lions workhorse Franco Mostert, who would be playing at his beloved Emirates Airline Park if given the nod instead.
Mostert is leaving the country soon to pursue a career under former franchise coach Johan Ackermann at Gloucester, so every occasion in the next few weeks to play before the Johannesburg public would be especially relished by him.
A Lions stalwart since 2014, the 27-year-old is probably in a tight duel, in the mind of coach Rassie Erasmus, with Du Toit for the middle-of-lineout lock berth against England, where lanky RG Snyman is expected to be the “front” lock.
He has the advantage over Du Toit of not having travelled for the controversial United States game, so enjoyed a welcome week off match action.
That said, if Mostert earns the nod the Bok second row will have a dangerously raw look to it, as the 2.07-metre Snyman is uncapped at Test level and Mostert would only be on 19th cap and seventh start for the country.
Although he had to make the debilitating trek to Washington, Du Toit hasn’t been too overworked of late because he sat out the last Stormers fixture in Super Rugby – against the Lions at Newlands – a week earlier.
He also has a definite edge in Test wisdom as he sports 33 prior appearances for the Boks; remember that the side are currently stripped of the services of both seasoned bruisers Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager.
Like most team-mates in the highly experimental clash with the Welsh, Du Toit didn’t set the world alight, but his personal shift was honest enough in the narrow reverse, and for all their faults the Boks would probably have earned a come-from-behind victory but for the fateful late charge-down of substitute Robert du Preez’s attempted clearance kick.
I still have a suspicion the slightly bulkier Du Toit will nose out Mostert, rightly or wrongly, for a start against England this weekend.
Du Toit also remains a decent option at blindside flank – he was the incumbent No 7 ahead of the Washington Test, having played there (and decently) against the same foes in Cardiff at the end of last year, Allister Coetzee’s closing game as head coach.
But smart money suggests the Bok loose trio at Ellis Park will be Siya Kolisi, the captain, at open side, Jean-Luc du Preez at No 7 and veteran powerhouse Duane Vermeulen at eighth-man.
Who else who started in the United States deserves strong Bok consideration for Saturday’s considerably bigger deal?
The list is regrettably thin.
Debutant inside centre Andre Esterhuizen was the best back by some distance against Wales, demonstrating a healthy combination of brute force and clever touches, but at this stage all he has probably done is earn a tick from Erasmus for use again a bit further down the line.
For the time being, a midfield combination of Damian de Allende (or Frans Steyn?) and Lukhanyo Am seems the favoured brew for game one against Eddie Jones’s charges.
Tighthead prop Wilco Louw, the first-choice Bok No 3 by the end of 2017, may not have done enough in Washington to convince Erasmus that he warrants preference over Trevor Nyakane; he has looked a slightly jaded character in the last few weeks.
Louw should stay thereabouts as the bench tighthead, however, and in-form franchise colleague Steven Kitshoff is likely to be seated alongside him.
The flame-haired loosehead was terrific when infused (replacing fairly innocuous young Ox Nche) early in the second half in the US, very quickly showing his scrummaging strength.
But he will probably stay just behind Tendai Mtawarira in the pecking order: the “Beast” is two appearances short of his emotional 100th Test and playing sterling rugby himself for the Sharks.
Possible Bok starting XV v England (team to be named on Thursday):
15 Willie le Roux/Warrick Gelant, 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende/Frans Steyn, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Siya Kolisi (capt), 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit/Franco Mostert, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
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