No Fassi, Jantjies or Willemse … Saturday is a missed opportunity for the Boks, writes Mark Keohane.
There is no doubt the Springboks team selected to play the All Blacks to complete the Rugby Championship is good enough to win. It is, with the exception of one player, the same starting XV that fronted the All Blacks last Saturday and led 17-16 on 77 minutes before losing 19-17 to a late Jordie Barrett penalty.
The defeat left the Boks without a win in three Tests in Australia, having won their first two tournament matches against Argentina. It left the All Blacks, five from five, and winners of the Freedom Cup (between Boks and All Blacks) and the Rugby Championship, to go with the Bledisloe Cup for beating Australia in all three Tests.
Short term, the gain for the Boks is celebrating a win against the All Blacks, now ranked one in the world and unbeaten in 10 Tests.
But looking more long-term, and by that I mean the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France, would Saturday’s Test not have had more value if the likes of Aphelele Fassi, Elton Jantjies, Herschel Jantjies and Damian Willemse had got a start?
Would the squad depth not have been better measured if many of those players who had thumped the Pumas 32-12 in the first Test post the Lions series win have been given a chance to front the haka and challenge the All Blacks?
The Springboks Rugby Championship campaign has been disappointing because the world champion Springboks have not played the big pressure moments well and you would expect the champions to have closed out the first Test against a young Wallabies side and to have closed out last Saturday’s Test against a faltering All Blacks.
They didn’t and a possible two from three and a shot at the Rugby Championship now has the potential of zero from four and a particularly depressing end to the competition for South Africa.
I was surprised that there wasn’t more of a big picture approach to the final Test, with the Bok coaching leadership exposing the likes of Fassie, the two Jantjies and Willemse to game time and the pressures of playing the All Blacks, which is always the measure of a player’s mettle.
The Boks have gone with the same players, who have fronted for the past three Tests and these are the players who were heroic in the manner in which they defied the odds and beat a potent British & Irish Lions squad in a three-Test series.
Those Boks simply have to feel mental and physical fatigue and what purpose, again big picture, is served by asking these players for another big shift?
When do the likes of Fassie, Herschel Jantjies and Willemse get given the responsibility? When does a Jesse Kriel play a big Test again and was this one not made for Elton Jantjies’s variety at No 10? For example, what gain is there to asking Franco Mostert to leave it all out there for one more time before the end of year tour when he has been played to an near standstill?
The response from the Bok coaches would be that they have picked a team that a week ago showed enough to beat the All Blacks and that they are giving them a shot at redemption, and that they have to win to finish on a high.
But this is not a ‘must-win’ in the context of a competiton already lost and the counter argument is that as cherished as any All Blacks win would be, would the World Cup cause of 2023 not have been aided with giving three to five of the best fringe players a hit-out?
Forget a preference in who those players are, but consider longer-term value to Saturday’s Test had a Springbok team, with different faces and a different approach, had a crack at the All Blacks.
The Jantjies halfback duo are among the backline replacements, but what an opportunity for them to have started.
I know the Bok coach said before the squad left that the best available would play in all four Tests and that many of the enlarged squad would not play, but personally, for this Saturday, I’d have welcomed some fresher legs, fresher minds and the probability of a bit more variation, just by nature of the playing styles of those players.
3️⃣ injury enforced changes to the Bok team for Saturday
➡️ Nche in at loosehead, Nyakane to tighthead and Wiese on the bench
🗣️ "The drive to succeed this weekend is as big as it gets"
🔗 Team announcement: https://t.co/7soVwsP8A3#StrongerTogether #StrongerForever #RSAvNZL pic.twitter.com/X9m1zufB9l
— Springboks (@Springboks) September 28, 2021
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