Finally, I was taken by surprise by a team selection made by Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber.
Nienaber made three changes to his starting XV for the Test against Wales on Saturday.
And all three of them caught me off guard a bit.
Let’s start at fullback where he opted for Damian Willemse instead of Willie le Roux.
The latter has been frustrating to watch in recent times and while some fans would write him off, I think this was perfect timing for Nienaber to “rotate” him.
Surely the message to the 32-year-old – even if it is tussen die lyne – would have been that he has to pull up his sokkies.
As for Willemse, he was patient after making his debut for the Springboks in 2018 and deserves his shot in the starting XV – for only the fourth time in his career after three years in the camp.
At 23 and with his willingness to be a sponge and soak up everything he can from experienced players around him, I am convinced that he is ready to take the opportunity with both hands.
A superb performance against Wales might see him wear the jersey again in Scotland next week. A good performance there could see a repeat in England. And next year – you see where I’m going with this.
Speaking of patience, how about Jesse Kriel?
I’ve watched this man sitting on the bench for South Africa in recent seasons. And I can tell you now that I’ve never been more impressed by a player sitting on the sidelines than I was with Kriel. Whenever the camera showed him, he was shouting loudest, cheering on his teammates. I recall thinking ‘shame, this guy deserves a chance’.
He is finally getting it – even if it’s on the wing.
While I doubt that he will take the jersey from Cheslin Kolbe in the long run, he could prove to be invaluable as a utility back.
Now here’s where it gets tricky. I am sure a number of fans would have liked to see a player like Aphelele Fassi called up in place of Kriel.
I do think it would have been a dangerous combination with Willemse starting at fullback if the Boks had gone that way.
Doubly dangerous, that is. For and against South Africa.
Yes, they are exciting players, but to have them starting their third and fourth Tests for the Boks respectively, would have been gevaarlik – especially with the way the game is being played at the moment.
With the Cardiff crowd op jou case and the Welsh raining down high kicks, experience is essential and to give Willemse a fair shot at fullback he had to be surrounded by experience.
Besides, Fassi is also a fullback and not an out-and-out wing, so picking Kriel in that position was perhaps the best choice this week – especially given the change at 15.
Listening to Nienaber, I believe that Fassi is being groomed in the same way Willemse was – so he will have to wait patiently for his chance.
Then I also expected Nienaber to go with Cobus Reinach instead of Herschel Jantjies at scrumhalf. The reason for this is that Jantjies has not been at his best post-World Cup, while Reinach has impressed almost every single time he takes the field.
As it is, though, this is also a big match for Jantjies.
He simply needs to give fans, and selectors, a reminder of how good he can be.
All in all, I have some boxes to tick this weekend. If
Nienaber stuck with the tried and tested, there would have been none.
For now, though, thanks for breathing some life into your team announcements –whether fans agree with them, or not. At least it’s not the same old, same old.
Nienaber’s team selection took me by surprise for Euro tour opener.