Rassie Erasmus’ fly-half dilemma: Pollard versus Libbok for South Africa test against Ireland

Will South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus start with Handre Pollard or Manie Libbok at fly-half for the highly anticipated first Test against Ireland in Pretoria on Saturday?

It is a choice between master goal-kicker Pollard and ball-in-hand magician Libbok for a clash of the top ranked nations with the Rugby World Cup holders first.

Initially, the South African media believed Pollard was a shoo-in to start against the Six Nations champions, but recent reports suggest Libbok might get the nod.

Libbok began the 2023 World Cup campaign in the playmaker role as Pollard had been ruled out of the tournament due to injury.

But when hooker Malcolm Marx was an early injury casualty in France last September, Erasmus called up fit-again Pollard rather than a front-rower.

It was a masterstroke as Pollard started the knockout matches against France, England and New Zealand, and did not miss a kick at goal as South Africa won back-to-back titles.

Erasmus is spoilt for choice in most positions and could select 12 of the team that started the final against the All Blacks, with the fly-half decision among the most eagerly awaited.

The matchday 23 will be named on Tuesday and AFP Sport looks at the selection options available to South Africa, whose only loss at the 2023 World Cup was against Ireland in a pool match.

Forwards

Who starts at hooker and at number eight are the main talking points with experienced Test campaigners Malcolm Marx and Kwagga Smith favoured.

Marx and Bongani Mbonambi are world-class hookers and it is likely the former, who played last month for the first since the World Cup, will give way to the latter in the second half.

The choice in the middle of the back row is more clearcut — the experience of Smith versus the promise of Evan Roos, who began a 41-13 warm-up win over Wales at Twickenham two weekends ago.

Props Ox Nche and Frans Malherbe, locks Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert and loose forwards Pieter-Steph du Toit and captain Siya Kolisi are expected to occupy the other six positions.

Backs

Double World Cup winner Faf de Klerk is the probable starter at scrum-half provided he recovers from a leg injury sustained against Wales.

If ruled out, Erasmus can choose between experienced Cobus Reinach, one of several Springboks based in France, and the dynamic Grant Williams.

Full-back Willie le Roux is expected to be recalled as Damian Willemse is injured and Kurt-Lee Arendse and fit-again Cheslin Kolbe are set to start on the wings.

Settled 2023 World Cup centre partners Jesse Kriel and Damian de Allende should hold off the challenges of Lukhanyo Am and Andre Esterhuizen to make the starting line-up.

Bench

The composition of the bench will depend on whether Erasmus opts for a 7-1, 6-2 or the more traditional 5-3 forwards-backs split.

Whatever choice he settles on, it would be surprising if Marx or Mbonambi, props Vincent Koch and Trevor Nyakane or Thomas du Toit, lock RG Snyman and back-rower Roos were not included.

Williams (scrum-half, wing) and Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu (fly-half, centre, full-back) are strong backline candidates because they cover all seven positions between them.

Then there are Pollard and Libbok. Whoever does not make the starting line-up seems likely to be included among the replacements.

© Agence France-Presse

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