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My Bok 'A-Team'

Coach Jacques Nienaber and Director of Rugby Johan Erasmus repeatedly denied there exists an ‘A-Team’ and a ‘B-Team’ in the Springbok set-up.

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And I believe them.

In the wider squad of 40-odd players, there are +-30 players worthy of a starting spot.

However, some of those are ‘more worthy’.

As Nienaber stated to @rugby365com before the start of the Rugby Championship, they will ‘rejig’ and ‘look for combinations‘ throughout the tournament.

That will become more apparent, especially now that New Zealand has one hand on the trophy.

As the Bok coach said in early June, there will be ‘rotational changes‘ leading up to the start of the World Cup.

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That leaves the Boks four more Tests – Argentina twice (Johannesburg and Buenos Aires), Wales (Cardiff) and New Zealand (Twickenham) – to experiment and find the proverbial ‘A-Team’.

Based on what we saw in the first two Tests – the 43-12 demolition of Australia and the humbling 20-35 loss to New Zealand – there were certainly some commodious ‘trial and error’ selections.

That is likely to continue in the next two or three matches, before settling on the ideal starting XV (or A-Team if you like) for the opening World Cup match against Scotland at Stade Marseille on Sunday, September 10.

I am of the view – call it an ‘educated guess’ – that we will see the ‘A-Team’ run out against the All Blacks at Twickenham, a key fixture for the Boks.

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That outing in London will give us a clear picture as to their prospects of defending their World Cup crown.

We may even see glimpses of the team and game plan in the encounter against Wales in Cardiff.

However, Twickenham is where the real A-Team will appear.

With that in mind, below follows a personal selection – my A-Team – to face the All Blacks at Twickenham, on Friday, August 25.

(Watch Jacques Nienaber unpack his selection policy …)

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Willie Le Roux has proven, over and over, that he is a playmaker par excellence – often slotting in at first-receiver and with one of the most prolific try-assist counts in the game. In the two Tests this year he had 15 carries for 56 metres. His critics will point to the four missed tackles against the All Blacks, but ignore those of Mbongeni Mbonambi (also four), Tyrel Lomax, Lodewyk de Jager and Man of the Match Shannon Frizell (all three).

* I select Willie le Roux for his playmaking ability.

On the right wing, it is a tough choice – Cheslin Kolbe with a proven Test track record or young gun Canan Moodie. Kolbe had nine carries for 98 metres against the All Blacks, two linebreaks, nine tackles made and just one missed. Moodie, with 10 carries, made 119 metres against Australia, made three linebreaks, beat two defenders, made four tackles and missed just one.

* I opt for Cheslin Kolbe‘s proven track record.

At outside centre, the options are, in my view, Lukhanyo Am and Jesse Kriel, also two established and proven performers. Am played in the first two Tests and Kriel is likely to get his run(s) against Argentina. Perhaps Am was not at his best, with his workrate not up to his usual standards. However, despite missing three tackles against the All Blacks, he still made 12 – suggesting he is improving.

* Lukhanyo Am gets my vote.

Inside centre is where it gets interesting. Andre Esterhuizen started against Australia and Damian de Allende against New Zealand, with contrasting results. Esterhuizen’s 20 carries produced 56 metres, one linebreak and five defenders beaten, to go with his six tackles made and two tackles missed. De Allende’s nine carries produced 27 metres, no linebreaks and two defenders beaten, to go with 12 tackles made and two missed.

* Appearances and perceptions can be deceiving and while I am tempted to give Andre Esterhuizen a run alongside Am, Damian de Allende gets my vote for the big game – as he had the same number of passes and offloads as Esterhuizen.

On the left wing, you need a player that is good in the air. Veteran Makazole Mapimpi did not have good returns against New Zealand, with his seven carries yielding just 15 metres. In contrast, Kurt-Lee Arendse had 12 carries for 81 metres. It was against Australia, but it is his ability under those high bombs that could be more valuable.

* Kurt-Lee Arendse not only has those aerial skills, but he also brings some much-needed youthful exuberance.

At flyhalf, the return from a calf injury by Handre Pollard is vital to complete the picture. Manie Libbok had a blinder against the Wallabies and Damian Willemse had a less-than-impressive showing against the All Blacks. Perspective is required. Australia did not provide the same pressure on the No.10 channel as New Zealand did. Pollard’s lack of game time could also be an issue, so giving him a run against Los Pumas and/or Wales is vital.

* In crunch matches the calm disposition of Handre Pollard is preferred over the creative wiles of Manie Libbok and Damian Willemse – the latter is my option as a utility off the bench.

Injuries and form also complicated the issue at scrumhalf. Francois de Klerk was not his usual steady self against the All Blacks, while Cobus Reinach gave the coaches food for thought when he started against the Wallabies. Grant Williams impressed in both of his appearances off the bench, so much so that he is a real option to start. Jaden Hendrikse needs game time when he comes back from injury.

* This is where the type of game you are going to play decides who starts. I will opt for Francois de Klerk to start and Grant Williams to come off the bench, as he also adds utility value.

At No.8 the options are Duane Vermeulen and Jasper Wiese, with Evan Roos the fringe player. Vermeulen was impressive against a sub-par Wallaby team, with 10 carries for 32 metres, 10 tackles made and two missed. Coming off the bench against New Zealand he had three more powerful carries, to make a statement about starting. Wiese’s nine carries against the All Blacks delivered 29 metres and he made five tackles, without missing any.

* It is a tough call, but perhaps Duane Vermeulen is the better starting option.

Pieter-Steph du Toit has jumped the queue in the race for starting at blindside flank. Against Australia, he already showed a return to form, with 20 carries for 40 metres, although four missed tackles would have been noted by his critics. Against the All Blacks, he made 13 tackles and missed just two. Franco Mostert, despite his honest endeavours, is still better suited to a utility option off the bench.

* My starting option is Pieter-Steph du Toit.

The return of captain Siyamthanda Kolisi from his knee injury will be a major factor in deciding the openside flank position. However, Marco van Staden put down a serious marker against the Wallabies should the Bok skipper fail to complete his rehabilitation in time for the Twickenham showdown. His work at the breakdown will be vital.

* I will start with Siyamthanda Kolisi, if he is fit enough to play. Otherwise Marco van Staden.

Lock is complicated, as the established pair of Lodewyk de Jager and Eben Etzebeth were below their usual high standards against New Zealand. Rudolph Snyman put down a big marker coming off the bench against New Zealand, but he may well still be a better bench option. Marvin Orie is an option in case of injury.

* As tempted as I am to start with Rudolph Snyman, I believe Lodewyk de Jager and Eben Etzebeth will serve the team better, once they have had a bit more game time.

The injury to Retshegofaditswe Nch̩ has complicated the front row selections. It means the combination of Frans Malherbe, Mbongeni Mbonambi and Steven Kitshoff is the most settled at the disposal of the Boks. However, Malcolm Marx has made a serious case for starting Рboth in terms of his set piece work and his allround game.

* I will start with Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx and Steven Kitshoff.

The bench is where the fun starts. I am also going with six forwards and two backs, because the need for more grunt up front is vital in the Boks’ overall game plan.

My two backs will be Grant Williams and Damian Willemse. They cover the entire backline and provide a real spark.

Rudolph Snyman, Franco Mostert and Albertus Smith are my second and back row bench forwards, with Mbongeni Mbonambi, Thomas du Toit and Vincent Koch in the back-up front row.

@king365ed
@rugby365com

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