Jacques van der Westhuyzen

By Jacques van der Westhuyzen

Head of Sport


Boks’ five major selection decisions ahead of World Cup quarter-finals

For the most part the team that will feature in a last-eight game is pretty settled.


The Springboks will know exactly who they’ll be up against in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals in France next weekend following this week’s final pool fixtures.

There are, however, a number of big selection calls to be made by the Boks’ management team, for a clash against either France or New Zealand.

The big question is, will the opposition influence who gets picked for the match?

Here then are five positions where the selection is not cut and dried.

Props

So far this season, the Boks have opted for the experienced duo of Frans Malherbe and Steven Kitshoff as the starters in the games against the so-called bigger teams, with Trevor Nyakane and Ox Nche coming off the bench in the second half.

And as coach Jacques Nienaber has so often said, there are not first-choice players in the Bok squad, but starters and finishers and everyone has a key role to fulfil, so it doesn’t matter who wears 1 and 3 and 17 and 18.

The good news for the Boks (and the fans) is that the team is well stocked in the props department, with Nche probably the standout front-ranker of them all so far in France.

Ox Nche
Ox Nche. Picture: Steve Haag/Gallo Images

Eighthman

Jasper Wiese has so far been picked ahead of the veteran Duane Vermeulen in the big games and while he’s done well enough, one gets the feeling the Boks could be even stronger and more formidable with Vermeulen in the starting side.

The seasoned No 8 is not only a powerful ball-carrier and kick-receiver, he also gets stuck in at the breakdowns, wins lineout ball and makes plenty tackles. He’s also got a calmness about him, and let’s not forget his leadership abilities.

Could the Boks surprise by now naming Vermeulen as their starter as the competition reaches the business end?

Flyhalf

As soon as Handre Pollard was called back into the squad this was always going to be the big selection poser.

Pollard started against Tonga in the Boks’ last game, with Manie Libbok coming off the bench, but who will the Boks go for in the crucial quarter-final: Experienced Pollard, who has limited game-time behind him and is somewhat predictable, or rookie playmaker Libbok, who gets the best out of the backs?

Both could be part of the match-day-23, as they were last time out, or one will sit out in the big quarter-final, depending on the makeup of the bench.

Manie Libbok
Manie Libbok. Picture: Juan Jose Gasparini/Gallo Images

Centres

Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel have been the first-choice pairing so far and been steady performers, but that is all, while in Andre Esterhuizen and Canan Moodie the Boks have two players with a little more punch and flair — men who could cause a few problems with ball in hand.

And then there is the Lukhanyo Am matter — does he come into contention for a quarter-final having joined the Boks just this week? Probably not, but if the Boks move on to the last four, expect his name to be mentioned a bit more.

Damian de Allende
Damian de Allende. Picture: Franco Arland/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Bench-sitters

Who sits on the bench next weekend is probably the biggest call to be made.

Do the Boks go with the traditional 5-3 split, giving themselves more options among the backs, or stick with a 6-2 split, and back the pack to grind down the opposition? Let’s not even discuss 7-1, which is way too risky.

Besides the props already mentioned, Deon Fourie will be the hooker back-up, RG Snyman and Kwagga Smith the other forwards, and maybe Jean Kleyn too, depending on the split, while the backs could have Cobus Reinach or Grant Williams, maybe also Libbok, and possibly Willie le Roux, in the mix.

Willie le Roux
Willie le Roux. Picture: Steve Haag/Gallo Images