Okay, so the Springboks have one more World Cup warm-up to play before they kick off their campaign against New Zealand in Yokohama on September21, but I doubt there will be anything “friendly” about their meeting with Japan on Friday.
Over the last few months Rassie Erasmus – just like most other coaches – has mixed things up in terms of player personnel in certain positions to equip them with the best possible preparation for the World Cup.
Questions have been answered and claims have been staked, and right now it’s all about implementing all the hard work that’s been done.
There will, however, still be those who want to make a statement, although it will be for different reasons.
If you look at the performances the 30-year-old has produced recently, it’s puzzling to learn that he has only started three Tests.
He was an absolute menace in the Boks’ 35-17 victory against Australia, and he’d be keen on continuing on that path and moving closer to a regular starting berth – and that all starts with another strong performance on Friday.
Then there’s Herschel Jantjies. What he’s done in only a handful of Tests has been sensational, and while it’s common knowledge that Faf de Klerk heads South Africa’s deepening pool of scrumhalves, Jantjies has done enough to make the prospect of someone taking over from the Lions’ scrumhalf in the near future seem not so hard to imagine.
Given what he’s done until now, the key for him will be to continue building on what he’s produced, and that’s about the only statement he needs to make.
Among the loose forwards, Francois Louw dispelled any talk of waning abilities when he produced one of his best Test performances in recent years in that Ellis Park drubbing of the Wallabies, and the way he silenced skipper Michael Hooper when it came to the breakdown showed he can play a big role for the Boks.
But with top baller Kwagga Smith also in the World Cup mix, Louw will want to make sure that he reserves a spot on the bench in the big games.
While the back-row spots in the starting line-up are already spoken for by Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen, Louw and Smith are the main back-up, and Erasmus has also said that hooker Schalk Brits could be used at No8 should the need to rest other loose forwards arise.
That makes it a direct battle between Louw and Smith, and while the Lions loose forward also knows how to work around the breakdown, he knows all too well that Louw’s experience at international level could see him provide cover in the opener.