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Ken Borland

Happy balance in the Springbok squad 0

Posted on July 29, 2022 by Ken

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber deserves credit for striking a happy balance between retaining the core of the 2019 World Cup winning squad and rewarding some of the outstanding individual form shown in the United Rugby Championship when he announced his squad last weekend for the next few months of international action.

Personally, I am particularly happy to see the return of Marcell Coetzee, who must surely be the designated back-up to the No.6 jersey should something unfortunate happen to Siya Kolisi, and a first call-up for Elrigh Louw. The pair of loose forwards have done so much of the donkey work that has led the Bulls to the URC final.

Evan Roos also fully deserves his place in the squad and, with Pieter-Steph du Toit also back in the mix after his serious shoulder injury in the series against the British and Irish Lions last year, South Africa are truly blessed with exceptional loose forwards to choose from. Jasper Wiese and Kwagga Smith have also previously met expectations in the Springbok jersey.

Warrick Gelant and Aphelele Fassi will provide pleasing competition for the fullback jersey, but don’t be surprised if Nienaber sticks with Willie le Roux, whose experience and performances in high-level games is highly valued by the Springbok management.

Andre Esterhuizen is also deservedly brought in, providing depth in the inside centre position after his superb performances in England, and Ruan Nortje seems the ideal successor to Franco Mostert and can learn much in his first exposure to international rugby.

It’s important to note that Duane Vermeulen, who is two weeks away from his 36th birthday, and Frans Steyn, who turned 35 a month ago, are both absent from the squad because they are unavailable. Vermeulen has had knee surgery, figuring he would rather have it now than in a World Cup year (2023), while Steyn is currently in rehab from a hamstring strain. Nienaber this week gave the impression that he is counting the days until their return to the Springbok squad.

In terms of the front row, there is plenty of depth with Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Trevor Nyakane, Ox Nche, Vincent Koch and Thomas du Toit all being quality props. New face Ntuthuko Mchunu is inexperienced but has the talent to make the starting front row in the future.

Bulls hooker Johan Grobbelaar, a member of the Springbok squad last year, has been incredible in the URC and was inspired in the epic semi-final win over Leinster in Dublin. It is a stiff ask for him to displace Bongi Mbonambi and Malcolm Marx in the pecking order, but I would have had him in the squad ahead of Joseph Dweba. Deon Fourie, who has considerably strengthened the Stormers’ challenge this season, can also cover hooker, of course.

Areas of concern in the squad, in terms of where Nienaber perhaps needs to rustle up some extra back-up, are flyhalf, scrumhalf and outside centre.

Handre Pollard’s flyhalf cover is Elton Jantjies, who has legal and injury problems in the background, and Damian Willemse, who has been a commanding presence at inside centre for the Stormers but there have been murmurs of discontent whenever he has worn the No.10 jersey. The obvious contender, Johan Goosen, is in the squad but will not be able to play until September/October after knee surgery.

Faf de Klerk is the obvious starting scrumhalf, but with Cobus Reinach injured, who sits on the bench? Herschel Jantjies needs to work on providing consistent quick service, while Jaden Hendrikse has had some flaky moments. For me, it is his Sharks team-mate, Grant Williams, who may win a reserves spot, given the injection of pace he can bring and the fact that he can also cover wing, useful if the Boks go for a 6/2 split on the bench again.

Lukhanyo Am and Jesse Kriel, whose current form from Japan we know little about, are the only specialist outside centres in the squad.

Heyneke relies on core players to finish job v Samoa 0

Posted on March 01, 2016 by Ken


Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has called on the same core group of players to finish the job and win the quadrangular series by beating Samoa at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

The Samoans are awkward opponents due to their immense physical strength, unpredictable running lines and their preference for an unstructured game. All of which calls for maturity, fronting up physically and the composure to stick with the game plan from the Springboks.

Meyer is in a catch-22 situation because he knows he has disappointed many Springbok supporters by not giving more game time in the series to the likes of Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh, Robert Ebersohn, Lappies Labuschagne, Pat Lambie, Lwazi Mvovo, Trevor Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen, Chiliboy Ralepelle and Jan Serfontein.

But he also knows that any defeat in this series would absolutely horrify us – consider how much angst there has been over the performance against Scotland, where the Springboks won by 13 points – and continuity is probably the key factor when it comes to winning.

And Samoa are certainly opposition to be respected.

Before the 2011 World Cup, South Africa had played Samoa six times, won every game and scored 316 points while conceding just 65. But at North Harbour Stadium in their previous meeting, the Springboks were clinging on for dear life as the Samoans ran them ragged in the second half, the defending champions eventually scraping home 13-5.

Today’s islanders are an even better outfit. Their entire squad for Loftus Versfeld plays in either Europe, New Zealand or the rapidly improving Japanese league and they have added some structure, especially defensively, as well as set-piece technique to their flair with ball in hand and brutal physicality.

“The Samoans aren’t amateurs anymore, they are all professional players in great competitions with top coaches. They are still very dangerous in broken play, but there’s been a big improvement in their scrum and defence.

“They are very physical and tough to play against and I have a lot of respect for their ball-carrying capacity,” Meyer said this week.

The Springbok coach is undoubtedly relying on an improved effort and presence in the collisions and has called on Willem Alberts at blindside flank and Flip van der Merwe, a number four lock playing in the number five jersey, to help bring this about.

But he is also relying on the experience and calm heads that veterans such as Bryan Habana, Jean de Villiers, Morne Steyn, Ruan Pienaar, Pierre Spies, Tendai Mtawarira and the Du Plessis brothers, Jannie and Bismarck, can bring as a safety net in a Test that could easily become a torrid test of composure.

There will probably be some pressure on the Springbok scrum – Van der Merwe’s added bulk in the second row will help there – but Meyer seems confident that the Springbok lineout can dominate.

They will surely, therefore, rely on the boot of Steyn to win territory and force the Samoans to try and run pressure ball from their own half.

But the territory game also requires that the Springboks get on the front foot in the tight exchanges and secure much quicker ball than they did against Scotland.

There is apparently a late change in referee for Saturday’s Test, with Irishman John Lacey no longer officiating. Frenchman Pascal Gauzere is set to take over and his display in the Durban match between the Springboks and Italy suggests he will be much more willing to ensure Samoa cooperate and play fair at the breakdowns than his countryman, Roman Poite, was in Nelspruit.

And the Springboks should also not fall into the trap of thinking Samoa will only attack with blind physicality. Although the likes of wing Alesana Tuilagi (117kg) and reserve centre Seilala Mapasua (120kg) do often just tuck the ball under the arm and employ the “Samoan sidestep” to try and knock the defender’s block off, there is still a solid skills set among the backs and elusive runners such as Johnny Leota, Alapati Leiua, James So’oialo and Tusi Pisi.

Outside centre JJ Engelbrecht, in particular, is a solid block of meat and muscle in the Springbok backline, but he is prone to being manipulated out of alignment by skilful runners.

If Meyer is not going to experiment, if he insists on sending out his best available team to do duty week in, week out, then it seems only fair that the public start to see that continuity pay off with more consistent performances.

Having learnt from the Springboks’ failure to dominate Scotland, nobody is expecting a walkover against Samoa. But a controlled, convincing victory (whatever the score-line) will go a long way in reassuring their fans that Meyer is building a team that is able to challenge for Rugby Championship honours later this year.


South Africa: 15-Willie le Roux, 14-Bryan Habana, 13-JJ Engelbrecht, 12-Jean de Villiers/Jan Serfontein, 11-Bjorn Basson, 10-Morne Steyn, 9-Ruan Pienaar, 8-Pierre Spies, 7-Willem Alberts/Siya Kolisi, 6-Francois Louw, 5-Flip van der Merwe, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Jannie du Plessis, 2-Adriaan Strauss, 1-Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements – 16-Bismarck du Plessis, 17-Trevor Nyakane, 18-Coenie Oosthuizen, 19-Juandre Kruger, 20-Siya Kolisi/Marcell Coetzee, 21-Piet van Zyl, 22-Pat Lambie, 23-Jan Serfontein/Juan de Jongh.

Samoa: 15-James So’oialo, 14-Alapati Leiua, 13-Paul Williams, 12-Johnny Leota, 11-Alesana Tuilagi, 10-Tusi Pisi, 9-Jeremy Sua, 8-Taiasina Tuifua, 7-Jack Lam, 6-Ofisa Treviranus, 5-Daniel Leo, 4-Teofilo Paulo, 3-Census Johnston, 2-Wayne Ole Avei, 1-Sakaria Taulafo. Replacements – 16-Ti’i Paulo, 17-Logovii Mulipola, 18-James Johnston, 19-Kane Thompson, 20-Junior Poluleuligaga, 21-Brandon Vaaulu, 22-Seilala Mapusua, 23-Alafoti Faosiliva.

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