South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus could break with sporting tradition Thursday and change a winning team for the second Test against England in Bloemfontein this weekend.
The Springboks won a thriller 42-39 in Johannesburg last weekend and another victory this Saturday at the Free State Stadium would clinch the three-Test series.
Erasmus has been dropping hints that there could be a few changes, partly because of fatigue and also to give other strong candidates a chance to star.
The changes are most likely to be at tighthead prop, lock or loose forward and inside centre as South Africa seek to maintain an unbeaten home series record against England.
“Look, it is tempting to stick with the same guys who played last weekend to give us our best chance of winning this Saturday,” Erasmus told reporters in central city Bloemfontein.
“However, we also have to try a few things. We only have 16 matches left until the Rugby World Cup in Japan next year.
“You do not want to be trying things out away to New Zealand or Australia or Argentina. We will take things one week at a time, but there will be one or two or three subtle changes, nothing major.
“The World Cup is just over a year away and we have to see how certain guys perform in a Test situation.”
Erasmus admitted that tighthead prop Wilco Louw is tired after Super Rugby, the one-off Test against Wales in Washington and the clash with England in Johannesburg.
“Just look at the number of minutes Wilco has played with the Stormers and Springboks this year, look at the amount of travelling he has done.
“He flew to and from Washington and then he started in Johannesburg. Wilco has played over a thousand minutes this season. He is a little punch-drunk right now.”
Unless Erasmus has a late change of mind, Thomas du Toit, popularly known as “The Tank” because of his 120 kilogram-plus physique, will start in the number three shirt.
Pieter-Steph du Toit, who has enjoyed an outstanding Super Rugby campaign, skippered the Springboks in the 22-20 defeat by Wales and came off the bench against England.
He can play lock or loose forward, allowing him to possibly start in place of either Franco Mostert in the second row or Jean-Luc du Preez in the back row.
Inside centre Andre Esterhuizen was one of the few Springboks to leave Washington with their reputation enhanced after a scrappy affair with wet, humid conditions not helping. He could be drafted in at the expense of Damian de Allende to partner outside centre Lukhanyo Am in midfield. South Africa have won three series against England in the republic and drawn the other two. The last time the teams met in Bloemfontein, South Africa triumphed 58-10 in 2007, a record winning margin over England.
England coach Eddie Jones will name his team today in Durban, where the Red Rose are based for a tour which concludes with a Test in Cape Town next Saturday.
England lock Launchbury fit to face Springboks
Under-pressure England received a big boost yesterday when lock Joe Launchbury was declared fit for a must-win second Test against South Africa in Bloemfontein this weekend.
The forward had been considered a doubt because of a calf injury that ruled him out of the first Test in Johannesburg last weekend, which England lost 42-39 after leading by 21 points.
England have to win the remaining two Tests, in Bloemfontein Saturday and in Cape Town seven days later, to achieve a first series success in the republic. Launchbury is expected to be named as the second row partner of Maro Itoje when coach Eddie Jones reveals his starting line-up today.
Nick Isiekwe replaced Launchbury in Johannesburg only be suffer the embarrassment of being substituted before half-time – an unusual step in a Test unless a player is injured.
Scrum coach Neal Hatley was pessimistic about Launchbury being available for Bloemfontein when he spoke to reporters Tuesday in Durban, the England base throughout the series.
But forwards coach Steve Borthwick said yesterday that the lock had recovered, was fully involved in training and available for selection. Australia-born Jones is expected to make several changes to the first Test run-on team as he seeks to snap a run of five consecutive losses. Having won 22 of his first 23 Tests, Jones has overseen losses to Scotland, France and Ireland in the Six Nations Championship, the Barbarians and South Africa.
England beat South Africa 27-22 when they first met in Bloemfontein 18 years ago, but were thrashed 58-10 in the only other Test there between the countries.
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