Grudge Ireland series leaves no room for experimentation

Bath’s Thomas du Toit had a powerful season in the Gallagher Premiership. | EPA

Bath’s Thomas du Toit had a powerful season in the Gallagher Premiership. | EPA

Published Jun 12, 2024


Mike Greenaway

The composition of Rassie Erasmus’s 35-man squad for next week’s Test against Wales confirms he has an eye on the future but the reality is that come the visit of Ireland, the Bok coach will revert to the tried and tested.

A grudge series against an Ireland team bent on proving a point is no place to experiment and Erasmus will save his blooding of newcomers for later, except where injury forces his hand.

Bath Rugby’s Thomas du Toit (obscured) scores his side’s first try of the game during the English Premiership final at Twickenham Stadium, London this past Saturday.

Next Saturday at Twickenham, Erasmus will field as strong a team as he can – minus the Bulls players and some overseas-based players yet to be released as the game falls outside of the international window that opens next month.

The team for Twickenham will probably feature World Cup finalists Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Franco Mostert, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Faf de Klerk, Damian de Allende, Jesse Kriel, Ox Nche and Kwagga Smith.

That is 11 of the match 24 that beat the All Blacks. The other 13 either cannot be selected or are injured and in the case of Duane Vermeulen, retired, while Jasper Wiese is suspended.

Still keeping the focus on the World Cup final squad, for the first Test against Ireland, Willie le Roux will be back at fullback from Bulls duties, Siya Kolisi and Trevor Nyakane will have returned from France, RG Snyman from Munster and Handre Pollard from Leicester.

The worrying part is that the injury list currently consists of Steven Kitshoff, Cheslin Kolbe, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Damian Willemse, Deon Fourie, Lukhanyo Am and Jean Kleyn.

Of the above, Am, Fourie and Kleyn are the most serious and the Bok medical team are hopeful they can get the balance ready for the July 6 first Test against Ireland.

Of course, there are also the Boks who went to France and did not feature in the final — Manie Libbok, Cobus Reinach, Makazole Mapimpi, Andre Esterhuizen, Marvin Orie, Vincent Koch, Canan Moodie and Grant Williams spring to mind.

And then there are the players that have come through in the United Rugby Championship and some of them will be involved in the Ireland series.

For instance, there will be a new No 8 because Vermeulen is now a member of the coaching staff and Wiese is suspended for the first six Tests of the Springbok calendar.

The players from the Bulls alone are reason for optimism as Erasmus grows his options beyond Ireland — Elrigh Louw, Cameron Hanekom, Marco van Staden, Johan Grobbelaar, Wilco Louw, Gerhard Steenekamp, Ruane Nortje and Embrose Papier.

A strong possibility for squad selection for the Ireland series is Thomas du Toit. “The Tank” has been sensational at Bath in the English Premiership after leaving the Sharks at the end of last year.

He had a cracking game in last week’s Premiership final between Bath and Northampton. He played 50 minutes at tighthead prop before switching to loosehead for the final 30, and he demolished his opposition on either side of the scrum.

The ability to play tighthead and loosehead with equal ability is priceless and when you are the 136kg Tank, you are only going to go forward.

Du Toit’s general play has also been exceptional. He scored 13 tries for Bath and has been nominated for the Premiership Player of the Year.

Du Toit was not eligible for selection for the Boks’ Test against Wales but it would be a surprise if he is not recalled afterwards.