PRETORIA (Reuters) – South Africa could field a weakened side in their Rugby Championship opener against Australia at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on July 20 as coach Rassie Erasmus juggles his players to ensure they peak during the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
The Springboks must travel to New Zealand and Argentina over the next month in a shortened Southern Hemisphere championship. Erasmus said he will “split our resources”, which includes sending an advanced party of 15 players to New Zealand next week, well ahead of their July 27 meeting in Wellington.
“Obviously the ideal is to win the Rugby Championship and build confidence going into the World Cup,” Erasmus told reporters on Thursday.
“But if you just purely think of the logistics… playing Australia here and then getting on the plane and arriving on a Monday or Tuesday, and thinking you have a realistic chance of beating New Zealand in New Zealand?
“So with the hand we got dealt, we have to split our resources. However, it also gives us chance to work with some fringe players that we haven’t had a chance to work with.”
Erasmus said there are only a few members of his Bok squad who are absolute certainties to start in their positions, and so doesn’t want to use the label of a ‘B’ team for the match against the Wallabies.
“You will see when the side is announced for Australia, it isn’t an A or B side, I can give you my word. It will be two competitive sides, because we want to win both games (against Australia and New Zealand),” he added.
“When you look at it, what is the difference between Lukhanyo Am and Jesse Kriel? What is the difference between Beast Mtawarira and Steven Kitshoff? What is the difference between Trevor Nyakane and Frans Malherbe?
“What is the difference between Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert? Or Franco Mostert and Lood de Jager? There are very few players where you can say this one is streets ahead of this one.
“That’s the nice thing at this stage, there are four or five positions where you can say this guy is clear cut, first choice. Those first clear-cut choices will probably go to New Zealand (next week).”
After their clash in New Zealand, the Boks travel to Salta to face Argentina on Aug. 10, before a home meeting against the South Americans in a one-off test in Pretoria a week later.
(Reporting By Nick Said; Editing by Christian Radnedge)