I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the Springboks’ pack of forwards will not fire on all cylinders when the Rugby Championship kicks off in three weeks’ time.
There’s simply no way I can see coach Rassie Erasmus’s charges bulldozing Australia up front with the number of injuries and foreign players they have in the squad.
Big ups to the coach for selecting a squad that I feel is close to the best he could have chosen.
Getting them to perform as a unit is a tough ask, though.
Let’s start at the top - with the captaincy.
Erasmus said over the weekend that they hope to have captain Siya Kolisi ready for the opener against Australia on July 20.
My gut feeling tells me that the skipper might just sit out that clash.
Having suffered a knee injury in May against the Highlanders, it was expected that he would be out for up to six weeks.
But in a World Cup year, I believe it’s better to have flanker Kolisi 100 percent ready before he is sent out for battle.
That leaves the Boks in a bit of a conundrum, with Kolisi having ran out first every single time the Green and Gold took the field under Erasmus in 2018. I’m not counting the first exhibition match against Wales in the US.
In that match, the one that kicked off Erasmus’s tenure, the team was led by Pieter-Steph du Toit.
If he is Erasmus’s second choice, he is yet another that has been out of action as of late because of injury.
Then there’s the walking wounded, Warren Whiteley.
The Lions captain is a natural leader and could have taken the baton from Kolisi with ease, but he is also not training at the moment because of his latest setback, a knee injury.
That leaves Erasmus with Kolisi’s stand-in at the Stormers, Steven Kitshoff; Whiteley’s deputy at the Lions, Malcolm Marx; and Lood de Jager’s generals at the Bulls, Handre Pollard and Duane Vermeulen as the other men who have captained their franchises this year.
For the record, none of those deputies have ever captained the Springboks in a Test match and that will worry Rassie.
Staying up front, with Du Toit and Kolisi not having played rugby of late, it will be interesting to see if Erasmus will push his loosies to fitness.
If Kolisi doesn’t make it, I’m pretty sure we’ll see the experienced Francois Louw wearing the No.6 jumper against the Wallabies.
He is one of a number of overseas-based stars in the squad.
But unlike some of the others that were “imported”, Flouw should have a good idea of what they want to bring to the table and with Vermeulen and possibly Du Toit alongside him, he shouldn’t take too long to adjust.
It’s either that or Erasmus could decide to really test the depth in his squad and rest the “big guns” to give the likes of Marcell Coetzee, Kwagga Smith and Rynhardt Elstadt a run in the Green and Gold.
That should make for some interesting viewing.
In the second row, I have forgotten all about De Jager already. Rassie hasn’t.
He has been out for as long as I care to remember and should surely not be in the middle of the engine room when the Championship starts.
A broken hand has already sidelined enforcer Eben Etzebeth towards the back-end of the Super Rugby season, meaning he is also a player that is currently on the mend.
Who does that leave them with? RG Snyman, Marvin Orie and Franco Mostert.
Snyman and Mostert ended 2018 as the incumbent locks, so it’s safe to assume they might start the year off.
To the front row and it’s here where I believe things will get interesting.
Kudos to Erasmus for rewarding form, I’m especially referring to Bulls prop Lizo Gqoboka. And also hats off for seeing when to wield the axe, by dropping Wilco Louw.
Here’s the thing, though; Beast Mtawarira shouldn’t start in the No.1 jersey this year. We have seen just glimpses of the Beast at his best last season, but I believe he has reached that sell-by date.
And with Kitshoff waiting in the wings, it’s time for a new number one.
Marx will be the man in the middle of the scrum and I would like to see Vincent Koch on his tighthead side.
But once again this will be a brand new combination, with Koch just recalled.
So while I believe the overseas Boks will strengthen our squad for the World Cup, I don’t believe it will be a seamless transition for them coming from Europe. And as a unit, I believe the pack will take some time to gel.
In the front-row you have an overseas player, in the middle row you have one and in the backrow, those are combinations that need to be coherent before the big unit can start firing.
With the foundation in any rugby game being laid up front, I believe this will have a knock-on effect on the backline.
This is not an excuse for the coaches to use, instead it’s a warning to fans that might expect the Boks to hit the ground running and to help them forget all about our struggles at the Cricket World Cup.