Sikhumbuzo Notshe, in the absence of Warren Whiteley, should be Rassie’s go to guy at number 8 for the much anticipated clash against the All Blacks this weekend.
When Whiteley was ruled out last week before the Australian game, Notshe was given his first test start, coming in as a straight swap for the injured Lions captain. Erasmus spoke of the similar playing styles of the two players when explaining his decision.
In the 43 minutes that Notshe spent on the field, he made ten tackles, and acted as a force at ruck time while still offering an attacking aspect and dynamic link between the backs and forwards that is often seen as Whiteley’s biggest asset.
Springbok forwards coach Matt Proudfoot confirmed his quality outing saying:
“I thought he was very tidy. For a first start it can be quite nerve-wracking for a lot of guys, but he has been around the camp for a while now. I think he did his job, he is more of an attacking player and we want him to play his natural game. We didn’t quite have the flow in the second half where he could really express himself.”
“I was very impressed with the way he engaged the scrum and his scrum management was really good. He is developing into a very reliable lineout option. There is a lot of detail for a young guy to get comfortable with in a short space of time and I think he did really well and can be proud of himself.”
His substitution for Marco Van Staden on 43 minutes was purely in an effort to nullify the breakdown force of Michael Hooper and David Pocock, which appeared to be growing as the match went on. While Van Staden was solid, the subbing of Notshe may have been a bit premature.
This Saturday, as the Boks still sweat over Whiteley’s fitness, Notshe should be backed again. Veteran loose forward Francois Louw has been recalled from England after missing last week’s game, but Notshe has the potential to offer a lot more from the perspective of a starting number 8 against the All Blacks. Bare in mind that Louw’s game load has been intense, having played all of the first four tests, while Notshe has played minor bench roles and started only one. Louw was also below par in the four tests, not quite the breakdown presence he was in his prime.
The All Blacks will be anxious to restore the status quo come Saturday, but the Boks have equal chance of denying them this. They must just make the right selections.
The loose forward unit of Siya Kolisi, Pieter – Steph Du Toit and Sikhumbuzo Notshe looked like the first Springbok loose trio this year to function collectively and as planned, each doing the basics well but bringing their own unique element to the game. Van Staden on the bench offered comfort in the form of both a physical and breakdown presence and realistically stands as a younger, fresher and more in-form Francois Louw.
Louw gives the selectors the comfort of experience, but the Boks have made great leaps forward this year by stepping out of their comfort zones, stylistically and selection wise.
Last week’s loose forward effort against Australia leaves no reason for doubt, with a stellar 43 minutes from Notshe, a man of the match performance from Du Toit and a forceful performance that is becoming characteristic of captain Kolisi.
In sticking to his selections from last week, Erasmus is guaranteed an in-form starting loose trio, with the added benefit of furthering the experience of youngsters Notshe and Van Staden in what is rugby’s biggest rivalry.