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Rugby | Springboks

Willie le Roux © Gallo Images

Experienced trio return but continuity is Bok mantra

Three experienced overseas based players make their return to the Springbok starting team for Saturday’s clash with France in Paris but coach Rassie Erasmus has rightly largely kept faith with the combinations that played at Twickenham last week.

Although the Boks lost to England in the opening test of a four game tour, it was execution rather than the overall plan or composition of the team that let them down. The return of Willie le Roux, Faf de Klerk and Franco Mostert should go some way toward improving the execution and adding to the side’s attacking options, while some of the players who didn’t quite get it right in London deserve a chance to atone for their errors. Malcolm Marx, widely regarded as the best hooker in the world, immediately springs to mind in that regard. Last week was a rare blip in an otherwise impressive international career.

Le Roux replaces Damian Willemse at fullback. Willemse made a solid first start in the No 15, but Le Roux’s experience and confidence on attack, his willingness and the assurance he displays when popping up in the first receiver channel will add to the Bok attacking dynamic and made him a must selection.

Ditto scrumhalf Faf de Klerk. Ivan van Zyl was solid at No 9 at Twickenham, but De Klerk has a zest and energy to his game that should make a difference. Mostert was excluded last week because he is now contracted to an English club and last week’s game fell during the international window.

His return is not a surprise, though for many the decision to switch Pieter-Steph du Toit to the No 4 jersey in order to accommodate him at No 5 will be. Du Toit makes the change because of the unavailability of his Stormers teammate Eben Etzebeth, who has ruled out by the ankle injury he sustained last week. He might otherwise have moved back to the flank.

“We believe it would be better not to rush Eben back as we still have two tests left on the tour after the match against France,” said Erasmus.

“Franco has started in eight of our 11 tests this year and he starts with Pieter-Steph, who is obviously also a good option to move to loose forward later in the match.”

Indeed, Du Toit is a good option for loose-forward later on in the game, but there will be a school of thought he should have started there. Those who argue that way will do so because they are uncomfortable with the thought of Duane Vermeulen, who is normally a No 8, continuing on the blindside flank. However, while Vermeulen’s performance in the No 7 received mixed reviews after Twickenham, it makes sense for Erasmus to try the selection again and not just limit it to one match.

Last week’s was Vermeulen’s first international game since the June series and it was also the first time that Warren Whiteley had started at No 8 since the win over the All Blacks in Wellington in September. Both players may just need a bit of time to find their feet before conclusions can be drawn about their suitability for the roles they were designated against England.

RG Snyman wore the No 4 against England and could easily have started there this week but he will once again play off the bench.

There are a clutch of changes to the bench for this game. Vincent Koch is one of the players back from being tied to overseas club duty and replaces Wilco Louw in what is a return to the Erasmus selection from the last Rugby Championship test against New Zealand in Pretoria. Francois Louw is back as loose-forward cover, taking the place of lock Lood de Jager, who looked a bit rusty when he came on at Twickenham to end a long injury induced lay-off.

Embrose Papier, and not last week’s starting scrumhalf Van Zyl, provides the cover for De Klerk, and perhaps the selection is justified from the viewpoint that he may provide better impact value than his fellow Bulls player.

There is another change to the bench, with Cheslin Kolbe back from overseas duty to provide the utility wing/fullback cover. Last week Andre Esterhuizen, the big centre who was the victim of the Owen Farrell shoulder charge that sparked so much controversy, provided the backline cover from the bench.

Kolbe’s selection means that Willemse drops out of the squad completely, as of course does Van Zyl. However Erasmus hinted that we may well see them on the field again before the tour is completed with the match against Wales in Cardiff in the last week of November.

“It’s good to have the experienced players back in the starting team for France,” said Erasmus.

“I thought Damian and Ivan did very well last week against England but you need as much experience as possible playing away from home. We are building squad depth for the Rugby World Cup and they will be back in the mix as the tour progresses.”

Springbok team: Willie le Roux, Sbu Nkosi, Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whiteley, Duane Vermeulen, Siya Kolisi (captain), Franco Mostert, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff.

Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Thomas du Toit, Vincent Koch, RG Snyman, Francois Louw, Embrose Papier, Elton Jantjies, Cheslin Kolbe.


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