South Africa’s influential lock Eben Etzebeth will play against Ireland this weekend, Leicester’s Handre Pollard will miss out, and Springbok director of rugby Rassie Erasmus is not replacing David Nucifora when the Australian leaves his IRFU director of rugby job after the World Cup.
There was a high level of certainty about the various outstanding threads as Erasmus and Springbok forwards coach Deon Davids spoke to media from their base in Paris ahead of South Africa’s pool-defining round three meeting with Ireland in St Denis on Saturday.
Pollard is short of game time but has not been discounted for further games. Being the defending world Champions South Africa expect to be still competing in France deep into next month. Etzebeth, who was withdrawn with a shoulder injury after 26 minutes of their win over Scotland and was omitted for their second match against Romania, has recovered more quickly than expected.
“In the previous press conferences we mentioned Eben was out for seven to 10 days,” said Davids. “It’s now seven. He reacted well last week with his return to training so, yes, he will be in contention for this week.”
Pollard is simply short of game time, and has had limited involvement with his Premiership club due to injury. That was why he was not selected to travel in the first instance. He was recalled over the weekend as a replacement for hooker Malcolm Marx, who is out of the tournament after suffering a knee injury in training.
A World Cup-winning outhalf replacing a hooker in a team where the kicking is not where it should be is an interesting shot by Erasmus.
“No, he [Pollard] will definitely not be selected for this week apart from if we get two or three injuries,” said Erasmus. “He’s just joined us today, he’s just played his first 40 minutes in 14-15 weeks for Leicester on Friday, and that was the issue why we didn’t bring him to the World Cup, because there was a lot of ‘return to training’ that wasn’t done and then ‘return to play’ only happened on Friday night.
“It’s good to have him here, he must get up to speed with the intensity of our training sessions, slot in nicely. We’ve only played two games at this World Cup, I’m sure at some stage we’ll have him back. But not this weekend.”
There had been some speculation that the Springboks coach would be following fellow South African coach Jacques Nienaber to Dublin, but he moved quickly to quash those rumours.
“No, no, no, I won’t be,” said Erasmus. “There’s no talks. There’s no truth in that. I’m not sure where it’s come from but I definitely haven’t chatted to them [IRFU]. I’m definitely not following Jacques.”
The Springbok coach singled out Johnny Sexton as a pivotal presence within the Ireland set-up. The Irish captain and outhalf broke the points scoring record of Ronan O’Gara against Tonga last time out before coach Andy Farrell replaced him with Ross Byrne as a precautionary measure at half time.
“He is vital in my personal opinion,” said Erasmus. “I think when I was with Munster we only beat them [Leinster] once. Whenever Johnny is in the team a lot of things happen, not just as a player. I think it is all about him and his presence.
“For a man that’s 38 to still score tries like he scored this weekend is stunning. As long as he is physically out there, which he is, no doubt about it, with his point-scoring tally. What else about him is, [he is] not just [vital] for his own team, but very intimidating for the opposition.”
The mind games ahead of Saturday’s game are about to start. Erasmus has coached in Munster with Jacques Neinaber and Felix Jones, while RG Snyman, Jean Kleyn and Damian de Allende played with Munster. So Erasmus also has a sense of the Irish psyche, and its strengths and weaknesses. On Monday he referred to Ireland as being the Springboks’ bogey team, and the World Cup as Ireland’s bogey tournament.
“I think the bottom line is it will boil down to respect, respect as players and coaches and being number one in the world,” said the Springbok coach. “Hopefully we’ve got some of the respect from them as well.
“We worked with them and I think with the individual knowledge of the players – they know about our coaching style and our players, Jean Kleyn and so on – I think at the end of the day it evens out. Yeah, I think it’s just respect. We know each other, we know each other’s work ethic.”