Cape Town – The Springboks last beat the Wallabies in Australia in 2013, so I was surprised when Jacques Nienaber announced the match-23 for Saturday’s Adelaide Test.
Surely you want to pick your best possible team for such a game?
Yes, the bigger picture is next year’s Rugby Cup, so at this stage, Nienaber is trying to assess a few squad members as well to stake a claim for selection in France.
But it should be a win-at-all-costs approach for Saturday at Adelaide Oval, and I feel that isn’t the case when looking at the starting line-up and players on the bench.
Jaden Hendrikse has created a solid partnership with Handre Pollard over the last few Tests while Faf de Klerk has been recovering from concussion sustained against the All Blacks in Mbombela, although the latter wasn’t at his best against Wales either.
So why shift Hendrikse to the bench? At the moment, he is the better option at No 9.
The same applies to Jasper Wiese at No 8. Yes, he has to work on his ‘soft skills’ such as offloading in the tackle and side-stepping, but his hard-running style has at least got the Boks over the advantage line.
Duane Vermeulen has been a stalwart for many years, but has just come off knee surgery and was well off the pace in the Ellis Park defeat to the All Blacks. The veteran loose forward could have come on for the last 20 minutes instead at the Adelaide Oval.
Pieter-Steph du Toit is in a similar boat as he is still getting back to the levels that saw him become the 2019 Player of the Year. Kwagga Smith has been the best Bok loose forward in 2022 and could have slotted in at No 7, while Elrigh Louw has also been waiting for a starting opportunity.
The retention of Joseph Dweba, Nienaber explained on Monday, was for “tactical and technical reasons”, and he added that he sees the two front rows as a unit that “gives us a tactical advantage”.
He probably meant that Malcolm Marx is more valuable coming on a replacement so that his high work-rate and ball-stealing abilities on the ground come into play towards the end of the match, but that is a luxury he can only afford if Bongi Mbonambi is available.
Dweba has the potential to develop into a top Test hooker, but he still has a distance to go to reach the level of Marx and Mbonambi. Again, in a mustwin Test, start your best hooker, and that’s Marx at the moment.
Saturday’s clash is not a time to give players coming back from injury some game time, whether as a starter or reserve. So, the introduction of Elton Jantjies and Frans Steyn this week is strange in that context.
Willie le Roux has been doing an excellent job as an impact player and can play at fullback and flyhalf, and considering the Boks’ bad luck with injuries at wing, why not bring Canan Moodie onto the bench as cover?
Fullback Damian Willemse can fill in at No 10 and 12 if necessary, so there wasn’t really a need for Jantjies and Steyn among the replacements – with Handre Pollard also able to shift to inside centre.
Instead, Nienaber will hope that all these undercooked players will fire at full tilt and deliver some bouncers at the revered cricket arena.
The Test will be shown live on SuperSport from 7.30am on Saturday.