Rassie Erasmus. Picture: ALON SKUY
Rassie Erasmus. Picture: ALON SKUY

Tokyo — “Steady as she goes” was pretty much the way Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus approached his team selection for their crunch Rugby World Cup (RWC) opening match against the All Blacks on Saturday.

He may feel there is no need to rock the boat at this juncture, with his team unbeaten in 2019 and a more than decent recent record against the All Blacks to take into the Yokohama Stadium encounter.

The coach opted to stick with the team that started in their warm-up match against Japan‚ despite the burgeoning contributions of substitutes tighthead prop Trevor Nyakane, loosehead prop Tendai Mtawarira and hooker Bongi Mbonambi.

“I remember when I played I got really p****d off when the coach took me off and I wasn’t there when the final whistle goes‚” said Erasmus in the team’s Tokyo Bay hotel on Wednesday.

“Some guys enjoy it more when the final whistle goes and they are there on the field‚” said the coach.

In a roundabout way, he was saying there is not much to choose between starting or coming off the bench.

“Nowadays the game consists of 23 players. It is very seldom that the front-row players only get 10 or 15 minutes.

“They normally get 30 to 35‚ or 40 minutes. Bongi and Beast had some good moments when we last played the All Blacks [in their drawn match] there, which got us back into the game and helped us draw.

“I’m not sure if it is better starting. Everybody sings the anthem. It is equally challenging. Those props are really close to one another in terms of performance‚” said Erasmus.

Fast enough

As it stands, Steven Kitshoff‚ Malcolm Marx and Frans Malherbe have again cracked the nod but will need to keep playing out of their socks.

The coach certainly is spoilt for choice among the lumbering men and he gave his speedsters the thumbs up when asked how they compare to the All Blacks.

The coach believes his team is sufficiently fleet of foot to keep up with the All Blacks‚ albeit in expected wet conditions that are likely to bog down both teams.

“I think speed-wise in the backline we will be okay. Between Makazole [Mapimpi]‚ Lukhanyo [Am]‚ Cheslin [Kolbe]‚ Willie [le Roux] and the guys off the bench like Jesse [Kriel] and Herschel [Jantjies] and Frans [Steyn], we’ll probably match them.

“I’m not sure what their backline will look like, but in the last three matches we managed to keep up‚” said Erasmus.

Saturday’s game will also mark the 50th time Duane Vermeulen will run out in a Test. The hulking No 8 was typically nonplussed about the milestone.

“It is pretty cool. I didn’t even know that. It was nice to hear that. We never spoke about it. It is not a big thing in our team. In the squad we try and focus on what we need to do. It is pretty special. Hopefully things go your way.

“In my first Test I couldn’t get a win. Maybe I can get one in my 50th‚” said Vermeulen.

The SA squad

Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe‚ Lukhanyo Am‚ Damian de Allende‚ Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard‚ Faf de Klerk, Duane Vermeulen‚ Pieter-Steph du Toit‚ Siya Kolisi (captain), Franco Mostert‚ Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe‚ Malcolm Marx‚ Steven Kitshoff. Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi‚ Tendai Mtawarira‚ Trevor Nyakane‚ RG Snyman‚ Francois Louw, Herschel Jantjies‚ Frans Steyn‚ Jesse Kriel.