Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus says that the priority for his team in the Rugby Championship is ensuring his squad are in good shape for the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
To that end, Erasmus will attempt to manage his resources and will not field a full-strength XV against the Wallabies at Ellis Park in the first match of the Rugby Championship on 27 July.
The Springboks have not won the tournament since Argentina were added and the name changed from the Tri-Nations to the Rugby Championship in 2012. Erasmus said that while winning the tournament would constitute the ideal preparation for the World Cup he was not prepared to risk burning out his best players ahead of the quadrennial showpiece that gets underway in September.
The coach made it clear that neither the team that faces Australia nor the one that will tackle New Zealand in Wellington the following week would be what would constitute a first choice XV, with resources to be split to give the Boks a shot at victory while ensuring workloads are carefully managed.
“Obviously the ideal is to win the Rugby Championship and build confidence going into the World Cup,” Erasmus told AAP.
“But if you just purely think of the logistics… playing Australia here and then getting on the plane and arriving on a Monday or Tuesday, and thinking you have a realistic chance of beating New Zealand in New Zealand?
“So with the hand we got dealt, we have to split our resources. However, it also gives us chance to work with some fringe players that we haven’t had a chance to work with.”
Erasmus insists that the Springboks have the depth to compete with their Antipodean rivals even as they employ a squad rotation system.
“You will see when the side is announced for Australia, it isn’t an A or B side, I can give you my word. It will be two competitive sides, because we want to win both games (against Australia and New Zealand),” he added.
“When you look at it, what is the difference between Lukhanyo Am and Jesse Kriel? What is the difference between Beast Mtawarira and Steven Kitshoff? What is the difference between Trevor Nyakane and Frans Malherbe?
“What is the difference between Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert? Or Franco Mostert and Lood de Jager? There are very few players where you can say this one is streets ahead of this one.
“That’s the nice thing at this stage, there are four or five positions where you can say this guy is clear cut, first choice. Those first clear-cut choices will probably go to New Zealand (next week).”
Rugby Championship fixtures