Cape Town – Now for some continuity.
That desire is highly likely to be near the front of coach Rassie Erasmus’s mind as he starts preparing for a possible early series close-out by the Springboks against England in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
One-nil to the good in the three-Test series after the pulsating 42-39 triumph at Emirates Airline Park, where his shrewd mix of seasoned individuals and raw youngsters paid promising dividends, he will be well aware that violently shaking the selection bag every weekend tends not to be the path to regular, profound success.
Erasmus fielded almost entirely different starting combinations in his first two Tests (Wilco Louw the only common denominator, and even then not an intended one) against Wales and England respectively.
But that was because he was dealing with substantially different fixtures – including in priority terms – on different continents from one week to the other.
Finally up and running in the win column as national coach after the Washington slip-up with a particularly untested bunch, he will be determined after the Johannesburg success to really start “gelling” his combinations properly.
That should translate – fitness-related matters permitting after the breathless first Test against the English – to a mass vote of confidence in the troops engaged in it.
The rawness and naivety even of the XV who ran on at Ellis Park was reflected in their early defensive lack of alignment and cohesion, as England surged to a worrisome 24-3 lead after 17 minutes.
But Erasmus insisted, and with what seemed a really sincere confidence and conviction afterwards, that the first-quarter gremlins amounted to “technical stuff … we will fix it”.
Considering the rousing, fleet-footed nature of the South African bounce-back, there is pretty good reason to believe that what we saw in the remaining 63 minutes was more like what these new-breed Boks are potentially about in the longer term.
There are still several alliances on the field that need the benefit of substantially greater time to develop – and that objective is likely to begin via ongoing ticks of approval in the Free State metropolis on Saturday.
Several players (young and older, and either local or overseas-based) produced genuinely stellar showings in the first Test and are shoe-ins for the second clash.
A few, though, were closer to satisfactory than truly compelling, including blindside flank Jean-Luc du Preez, tighthead prop Louw and outside centre Lukhanyo Am.
But I suspect that is unlikely to result in the axe for the second meeting, in any instance.
Yes, someone like Pieter-Steph du Toit will continue to provide strong pressure both for No 7 and a second-row starting berth, and almost certainly force his way back in not terribly long from now.
The revelation that intended first choice at No 3 for Ellis Park, Trevor Nyakane, has been released from the squad for the time being due to his rib complaint clears the way for Louw, though not at his best in recent weeks, to hold onto the tighthead berth.
He is a specialist, and that is likely to count in his favour over the claims of reworked former loose-head Thomas du Toit, who has been doing well as a second-half “supersub” so far.
Louw did gain a firmer foothold at scrum-time after a nervy start against humungous direct opponent Mako Vunipola in Jo’burg.
He needs to up his contribution in general play, but has also been overplayed at Super Rugby level this year and will improve with a welcome, perhaps conditioning-focussed break from competition before the Rugby Championship comes along – do not forget his noticeable Test strides in late 2017.
Similarly, Steven Kitshoff continues to add huge impact off the bench on the loose-head side, although stalwart Tendai Mtawarira is hardly going to be deprived of a start on his emotional 100th Bok appearance this weekend.
Wasps-based fullback Willie le Roux, so electric in the Bok claw-back on Saturday, was limping toward the end of the high-tempo Test, but hopefully it was more cramp-related than anything else.
Greater clarity over Bok fitness issues, following the first Test, should become apparent when Erasmus hosts a media briefing in “Bloem” early on Monday afternoon.
He will reveal his second-Test team on Thursday.
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