At the beginning
of this year’s Vodacom Super Rugby campaign, Rassie Erasmus would have had an
idea of which players he wanted to take to the Rugby World Cup in Japan later
this year, however before the World Cup, there is the Investec Rugby
Championship which the Springboks are yet to win since it was expanded with the
inclusion of Argentina.
This year’s Rugby Championship is reduced to just three games for each team instead of the usual nine, because of the Rugby World Cup, with Rassie Erasmus’ team set to face off against the All Blacks, Wallabies and Pumas just once.
With three being the operative number here, there are three players whose Super Rugby form could see them force their way into Rassie Erasmus’ Rugby World Cup squad from the fringes of the Bok setup.
Lizo Gqoboka’s well-documented story of the young man from Ntabankulu who had never touched a rugby ball until he started playing at Durban Collegians as a 19-year-old should reach its climax this season. The bustling prop (29) has been in superb form for the Blue Bulls this season and should duly be rewarded with a Springbok debut in the Rugby Championship.
You would be forgiven for having thought his national honour’s chances had passed especially with the rise of young talents like Ox Nche and Dylan Smith, on the other side of the coin, the feeling of Lizo’s Springbok cause being a case of destiny delayed rather than destiny denied has always lingered.
His ability in open play has never been in doubt – deceptively quick for his 115kg frame – the former Southern Kings man has always been a handful on the carry. It is injuries and persistent technical issues at the set-piece which were stumbling blocks that denied him his chance, barring the former happening, the latter no longer holds water in denying him a Springbok opportunity, his scrummaging has come on in leaps and bounds.
and Steven Kitshoff are the established front runners for the Springbok
loosehead berth, but Gqoboka is in the kind of sumptuous form that could see
him unseat one of them sooner rather than later.
Daniel du Preez
With much of the
attention at the Sharks on the on-going debacle of Robert du Preez Senior’s
continued selection of his eldest son, Robert Junior, despite the flyhalf being
woefully out of form. His other son at 8thman has flown under the radar, he has
been an integral part of the Cell C Sharks’ charge into Super Rugby play-offs.
Robert du Preez
may have to defend his eldest’s selection. Daniel du Preez needs no defence as
he has continued to grow tremendously this season, a lock all throughout high
school, he only joined his twin brother and blindside flanker, Jean-Luc in the
back row when he was 19.
He earned the
last of 4 Springbok caps against Wales in a once off Test match in the USA last
year, despite being a capped Springbok, before this season he had not really
shown enough facets of his game to suggest he would become world class as an
8thman. Du Preez, even though he showed promise, but he had not quite developed
the full bag of tricks at 8.
In 2019 he has
elevated his game beyond the traditional blindside basher with 8 on his back,
he has picked up the nuances of operating at the back of the scrum effectively,
the softer touches that may be more effective than a barnstorming run over the
Du Preez has
developed better timing off ball, often prone to standing starts and the use of
sheer power to get over the advantage line, he is making better runs and
finding support runners.
Whiteley’s injury misfortunes may open the door for the 23-year-old 8thman to
get onto the plane to Japan, but before that Erasmus simply must give the young
loose forward a run in the Championship. If he can transfer his domestic form
onto the international stage, it may not matter whether Whiteley is fit or not
going into the World Cup.
If there is to
be talk about a late surge for Springbok selection – if not for the World Cup,
then certainly for the Rugby Championship – then no player typifies it better
than Lionel Mapoe whose form has shot up significantly since the middle of
April and despite the Emirates Lions falling short in some games, even in those
games, he has looked irrepressible over the last few weeks.
Much of the punditry
for the best part of the season has been whether Erasmus will opt for the power
and pace of Jesse Kriel or the guile, fleet-footed and breakdown savvy Lukhanyo
Am at outside centre such has been the perception that these are the foremost
outside centre options for Rassie Erasmus and rightfully so.
Mapoe, in terms
of technical ability and physical attributes, mirrors a combination of Kriel
and Am’s strongest traits and should be a serious contender to dethrone one if
not both players if he is selected by Erasmus in the upcoming Rugby
struggles on the Test match stage in the past may hinder his assault for
Springboks colours, but one cannot look past his ingenuity, deft touches,
incredible anticipation epitomised in his timing of his runs, sheer power and
pace and just how well he is exuding all these qualities on his current form.
The Springboks’ Championship chances
have one eye on Japan when he selects his squad for the Rugby Championship,
there is no doubt he will be looking to make the most of the shortened
tournament and look to bag the Springboks’ maiden Championship by winning all 3
If he is to win
it, he may have to look to play the in-form trio of Lizo Gqoboka, Daniel du
Preez and Lionel Mapoe, success for all 3 could, not only enhance the
Springboks’ Championship chances, but also give the Springboks different
outlets in the most open Rugby World Cup since its inception.
Of course, he
may opt for the conservative route and select players he trusts the most to
effectively execute his instructions and go for a settled team with a limited
number of games before the World Cup kicks off.
He would be well advised to go with the first option and grant the form players a shot at Rugby Championship glory.