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RUGBY OPINION: 433 days to go

There are 443 days to go until the Springboks start their Rugby World Cup title defence in France. Darry Worthington takes a look at how the side is shaping up, lessons learned in the URC, fresh faces and more.

Springboks lifting the Rugby World Cup
Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports

There are 443 days to go until the Springboks start their Rugby World Cup title defence in France. Darry Worthington takes a look at how the side is shaping up, lessons learned in the URC, fresh faces and more.

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone

Global rugby powerhouses are preparing in earnest for the showpiece event as is illustrated with Ireland taking a squad of 40 players to New Zealand for their July series. England, meanwhile, have already played against the Baa-Baas despite the Gallagher Premiership ending just a day prior to the exhibition fixture.

Like their counterparts, the Springboks have also been hard at work with two alignment camps, with the first of these being held in April. Jaques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus will be going all out to make use of all 443 days in a bid to ensure everything is ‘Lekka’ before the Boks kick off their World Cup campaign. 

URC Lessons

The South African teams may have started the competition off slowly but they ended it like Usain Bolt over 100 metres with the Stormers beating the Bulls in an all-South African final at the Cape Town Stadium. On top of this, the Sharks made the quarter-finals while the Lions managed a respectable enough 12th-place finish.

Silverware is a fantastic thing but the lessons learned in the competition will be what the Springbok brain’s trust will be most pleased with. All four sides managed to adapt their game plans as the season wore on. There were also massive improvements from individuals like the Stormers trio of Mannie Libbok, Damien Willemse and Warrick Gelant who all added a couple extra weapons to their respective arsenals during the campaign.

Another little coup for the Boks is that they got a real taste for European conditions. While September, October and November are not known as part of the rainy season in France, the French fields are still likely to be a bit heavier underfoot than the fast tracks in the southern hemisphere.

The final thing that would have left Rassie Erasmus with a smile and a cheeky little ‘lekka’ on the tip of his tongue is the fact that domestically based players got to duke it out with a number of European internationals. While players such as Faf de Klerk, Lood de Jager and Damian de Allende have fronted up against their European counterparts for years, the likes of new squad members Evan Roos, Ruan Nortjie and Kurtley Arendse got to lock horns with some of Europe’s best during the URC.

Champions and Challenge Cup Pressures

This is honestly a massive catch-22 for the Springboks. While it’s great that domestically based players will be able to compete in these elite European competitions, the timing of their entrance could not have been worse for the national side.

The reason that this could well cause an issue is that the provincial unions will want to see their franchises make a mark during their debut seasons. There’s loads of money up for grabs with TV rights and the deeper you go into the tournaments the more money you are likely to earn.

The problem is that the unions will want to put their best players on the field while Jaques and Rassie will want to manage players’ workloads, which will be increased as they now have to contend with both the URC and European fixtures.

There are a couple silver linings to this, however. Firstly, the Cheetahs have been invited to play in the Challenge Cup which means Frans Steyn will again be playing some decent level rugby instead of battling it out in a watered-down Currie Cup. The other positive is that domestically based players will take on the English and French internationals that they could well face at next year’s Rugby World Cup.

Missing Vets and New Faces

There were a couple of big names missing from the squad to play Wales with Duane Vermeulen, Frans Steyn and Cobus Reinach all absentees. There’s nothing sinister in this, however, with Jaques Nienabar confirming that all three players have injuries or are being rested.

Reinach is actually still in camp with the Springboks and will continue his rehab while also hanging around and getting to grips with any changes to the setup and structures.

Another man who is in a similar position to Reinach is Johan Goosen. The Bulls man has been named in the squad but is only likely to play a Test match on the Boks end of the year tour as he is still overcoming an ACL injury picked up early in the URC.

While there are a number of veterans missing there have been two recalls for a pair of seasoned players with Marcel Coetzee rewarded for his stellar form for the Bulls with a recall while the Sormers’ elder statesmen Deon Fourie could well win his first international cap at the age of 35.

These call ups are pretty shrewd moves from Nienabar as even if neither makes next year’s World Cup squad, they could still well pass on some vital knowledge to the young guns in the squad.

While Fourie and Coetzee bring the average age of the group up considerably, there are a number of young guns who balance things out with Evan Roos (DHL Stormers), Elrigh Louw (Vodacom Bulls), Ruan Nortje (Vodacom Bulls), Salmaan Moerat (DHL Stormers), Kurt-Lee Arendse (Vodacom Bulls), Grant Williams (Sharks) Ntuthuko Mchunu (Sharks) all in with a sniff of a debut test against Wales.

Of this bunch Roos, Louw, Nortjie and Moerat are probably the ones in with real shouts of getting on a plane to France while the other three would need a couple of injuries in their respective positions in order to open the door for them.

Springbok squad to face Wales

Forwards

Props

Thomas du Toit (Cell C Sharks)
Steven Kitshoff (DHL Stormers)
Vincent Koch (Saracens)
Frans Malherbe (DHL Stormers)
Ntuthuko Mchunu (Cell C Sharks)
Ox Nche (Cell C Sharks)
Trevor Nyakane (Racing 92)

Hookers

Joseph Dweba (Bordeaux)
Malcolm Marx (Kubota Spears)
Bongi Mbonambi (Cell C Sharks),

Locks

Lood de Jager (Sale Sharks)
Eben Etzebeth (Cell C Sharks)
Salmaan Moerat (DHL Stormers)
Ruan Nortje (Vodacom Bulls)
Marvin Orie (DHL Stormers)

Loose forwards

Pieter-Steph du Toit (Toyota Verblitz)
Marcell Coetzee (Vodacom Bulls)
Siya Kolisi (Cell C Sharks)
Elrigh Louw (Vodacom Bulls)
Evan Roos (DHL Stormers)
Kwagga Smith (Yamaha Júbilo)
Jasper Wiese (Leicester Tigers)

Utility forwards

Rynhardt Elstadt (Toulouse)
Deon Fourie (DHL Stormers)
Franco Mostert (Honda Heat)

Backs

Scrumhalves

Faf de Klerk (Sale Sharks)
Jaden Hendrikse (Cell C Sharks)
Herschel Jantjies (DHL Stormers)
Grant Williams (Cell C Sharks)

Flyhalves

Johan Goosen (Vodacom Bulls)
Elton Jantjies (NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes)
Handre Pollard (Montpellier Herrault)

Midfielders

Lukhanyo Am (Cell C Sharks)
Damian de Allende (Munster)
Andre Esterhuizen (Harlequins)
Jesse Kriel (Canon Eagles)

Outside Backs

Aphelele Fassi (Cell C Sharks)
Warrick Gelant (DHL Stormers)
Cheslin Kolbe (Toulon)
Willie le Roux (Toyota Verblitz)
Makazole Mapimpi (Cell C Sharks)

Utility Backs

Kurt-Lee Arendse (Vodacom Bulls)
Damian Willemse (DHL Stormers)

Wales Series

While Wales should be decent enough they seem to be on the wane and are almost ideal opposition to test out new combinations and blood youngsters against.

The tourists had a very poor Six Nations winning only one of their five games and suffering an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Italians. They’ll also likely look to give some of their fringe players a run during this tour.

It’s also worth mentioning that their URC sides all had stinkers, only winning a combined 27 fixtures out of 72. Keep in mind that they each played one another home and away as well. Yikes. 

With the above in mind, you have to think that Jaques and Rassie will rotate their playing personnel in all three of the Tests.

Rugby Championship

While the series against the Welsh will likely be used as an acid test for the new boys and recalls in the squad, this trend could well continue into the Rugby Championship.

During the build up to the 2019 World Cup Rassie Erasmus fielded a second-string team against the Argentines. While this only happened in the year of the World Cup I suspect he would have made the exact same call during the 2018 Rugby Championship had he not been so new to the role.

The new format of the Rugby Championship may make squad rotation tricky. The ‘mini-tours’ will see the Boks play against the All Blacks in Republic on 6 August in Nelspruit and in Jo’burg on 13 August. 

On 27 August and 3 September, the Boks will play Tests against Australia in Adelaide and Sydney. You’d expect pretty strong sides for these two sets of fixtures. 

Should the Boks do well in those fixtures, finding themselves in with a shot of clinching the title, it’ll be interesting to see what Nienaber opts to do in the home-away fixtures against Argentina on 15 September (Buenos Aries) and 24 September (Durban).

Verdict

While there’s a lot of rugby to be played between now and next September, things are looking pretty good for the Springboks with more than 400 days of preparation time still in the bag.

I actually watched the URC final with two Bulls supporters, a Lions fan and a Stormers fan and we were all in agreement that things are looking rosy.

Agreements like that don’t often happen between five South African rugby fans so for my money, at least, we could well be looking at another World Cup title come the close of 2023.

Of course, the pathetic tradition of doing the pool draws a few years before the start of the tournament means that seedings that make sense 2020, translate pretty poorly to mid-2022 and through to late 2023. Beacause of this, the Boks will need to navigate a group containing the likes of France and Ireland. 

You can currently bet on the reigning World Champions to retain their crown at a tasty 11/2 on Hollywoodbets World Cup 2023 outright market!

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