The Springbok coaching staff showed clarity in their selection policies on Thursday even though they surprised slightly by selecting Uzair Cassiem at No8.
The Boks will have no shortage of lineout options both in the starting XV and on the bench for Saturday’s Rugby Championship opener against Argentina in Port Elizabeth.
Cassiem was named at No8 over Jean-Luc du Preez in an otherwise predictably straightforward selection by coach Allister Coetzee.
The Cheetahs used Cassiem sparingly as a lineout option in Super Rugby. He took 12 balls over the entire season, while managing to steal two.
But with lock Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert as primary ball winners‚ Cassiem’s mobility around the park and his ability as an extra breakdown option are what probably tipped the selection his way.
Cassiem is a good carrier and a nuisance over the ball‚ while his selection will also have the added effect of throwing the Pumas’ analysis off as they would not have expected such a left-field selection from the Springboks.
It will be only his second cap‚ his first coming at the end of the disappointing 2016 season, when the South Africans lost to Wales in Cardiff.
Cassiem is one of the few Springbok players to have come out of that match with his reputation intact.
The Free Stater is closest in style to the rangy but injured Warren Whiteley‚ which was another factor in his selection.
Blindside flank Siya Kolisi is also a lineout option, while Du Preez and Pieter-Steph du Toit on the bench give the Boks more artillery in that area as well.
Coetzee did not tinker too much with what worked during the 3-0 series victory over France in June.
The only other change to the team is at scrumhalf, where Ross Cronjé‚ who missed the third Test in June through injury‚ returns to the starting lineup with Francois Hougaard relegated to the bench.
Although the team shows consistency in selection from June‚ it also highlights just how much has changed in less than a year for the team.
Fifteen changes have been made to the 23 that lost 57-15 to the All Blacks in Durban in their final outing of the 2016 Rugby Championship.
Several casualties from that day were not available this week due to injury. But even taking away the likes of Whiteley and Julian Redelinghuys‚ who played in that match‚ it is still a high turnover in less than a year.
The contrast points to more clarity from the coaching staff‚ who now have a clear plan both in terms of selection and tactics after the flailing about of 2016.
The addition of Brendan Venter as a consultant has added a goal-driven voice of reason, while Franco Smith has been able to become more influential in the team’s tactical approach.
Scrumhalf Cronjé’s selection highlights this.
His ability to kick cleverly and clear the base of rucks quickly‚ coupled with his understanding of playing alongside flyhalf Elton Jantjies‚ superseded any of the athletic and X-factor advantages Hougaard brings.