Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus. Picture: REUTERS
Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus. Picture: REUTERS

Now that Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus has got past the business of picking his first match day 23 of the season‚ the focus has again shifted to the priority of the Rugby Championship ahead of the World Cup.

Erasmus picked a side with three debutants in scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies‚ loose-forward Rynhardt Elstadt and loosehead prop Lizo Gqoboka for Saturday’s Rugby Championship Test against Australia at Ellis Park.

In response‚ Australia coach Michael Cheika has only one debutant in No8 Isi Naisarani, while star backs Will Genia‚ Matt Toomua and Kurtley Beale are all on the bench.

Erasmus said he understood what is at stake‚ especially with the need to generate winning momentum ahead of the World Cup.

“It’s a massive game and there’s no doubt that there’s a bit of a gamble that we’ve taken with one eye on the World Cup. You can’t have an eye on the World Cup without building momentum.

“Each coach is in a different position‚ with All Black coach Steve Hansen having to rest the Crusaders players and keeping a few guys back for our Test match.

“Australia would like to get momentum as they still need to travel‚” Erasmus said. This game is a big one for them in terms of getting momentum and they see this one as a must win.

“That’s why they may pick their strongest and in-form team‚ even though I’m guessing that.

“With the Brumbies losing in the semis‚ they played a week longer than the Bulls and Sharks. Test match rugby and altitude is something they’d be acclimatised to so things will be evened up now.”

The match day 23 Erasmus has picked has given a fair idea of the players who will be travelling to New Zealand early to acclimatise for next week’s Test against the All Blacks in Wellington.

Players such as Steven Kitshoff‚ Malcolm Marx‚ Frans Malherbe‚ Franco Mostert‚ Duane Vermeulen‚ Handre Pollard‚ Lukhanyo Am‚ Damian de Allende‚ Willie le Roux and Cheslin Kolbe have been left out of the match day squad and will likely form part of next week’s team to face New Zealand.

Pieter-Steph du Toit and Eben Etzebeth‚ who will be captaining the team‚ will be playing with the view of them getting match fitness for the rest of the Rugby Championship campaign.

Whether SA’s team is an experimental one will be seen on Saturday‚ but Erasmus hopes his plan will work.

“We’ve been training with 38 guys where only Siya Kolisi wasn’t training. In the last three to four days‚ he was almost training with us full on.

“There will be 32 guys going with us to New Zealand and Argentina and 31 guys going to the World Cup.

“There will always be 36 or so guys in the wider training group and there’s a few standby guys who are injured‚” Erasmus said.

“If we didn’t have the tough travel draw‚ we would’ve picked the first-choice team for this game and the next one.

“I wouldn’t say it’s the last opportunity but if we pick up momentum and we do reasonably well‚ there’ll be an opportunity to give guys a chance against Argentina.

“If we do lose momentum‚ we may have to grab it again somewhere.”