Sunday 15:00, September 20th, 2023 Abbaye Sainte-Marie de Fontfroide
As the warm-ups for the Rugby World Cup get underway, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is, once again, executing the right approach by naming five debutantes to his B team, against the Pumas.
Sevu Reece starts at wing, with the other four to come off the bench.
To put this into perspective, essentially one-third of the side will, at some point during the 80 minutes, be first-time players. That’s a mind-blowing stat, speaking volumes about player depth, and giving Hansen the luxury to mold these players into contention for Japan.
I suspect two will make the squad: Reece and Luke Jacobson at flank.
Jacobson is a heck of a player and at 22 his future shines bright. Reece is also 22 years young.
And what of the Springbok selection in this department?
Coach Rassie Erasmus selected three debutantes – Rynhardt Elstadt is starting at flank and Herschel Jantjies at scrum-half, with Lizo Gqoboka coming off the bench.
Now let’s look just a little deeper. Gqoboka, a loosehead prop, is 29. OK, he only started playing rugby at 19, but why debut him at such a ripe age for World Cup evaluation when four years ago he was already shining?
Elstadt is also 29 and the same question is asked.
Jantjies? Well, Erasmus got that one right, in terms of giving him a start at the age of 23.
Yes, the coach only got the job in 2017, but he had ample opportunity to give these three playing time before the eve rugby’s biggest tournament. Let’s not also forget that prior to this, Erasmus was an assistant to Heyneke Meyer, so he had a say.
Sotuh African coaches need to take a longer view of talent, of which there is plenty coming out of the country, and put class players under the national spotlight in their early twenties.
Those who rise to the top will have as much as a decade at their prime, versus maybe three for someone pushing 30.
That’s how you build a world-class squad. If you don’t believe me, just ask Steve Hansen.