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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.

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