Sport

LAST CHANCE

Fringe players fighting for RWC 2023 spots as Bongi’s Boks take on Pumas

Fringe players fighting for RWC 2023 spots as Bongi’s Boks take on Pumas
Steven Kitshoff of South Africa challenged by Tomas Lavanini of Argentina during their 2023 Castle Lager Rugby Championship match at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg on 29 July, 2023 (Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix)

This weekend’s Test in Buenos Aires is the last chance for Springbok World Cup hopefuls to impress coach Jacques Nienaber and director of rugby Rassie Erasmus.

There will be a few players in green and gold when the Springboks and Pumas clash at the Estadio José Amalfitani in Buenos Aires on Saturday night (SA time) who know they’re at the doors of the Last Chance Saloon.

Coach Jacques Nienaber will name his final 33-man Rugby World Cup 2023 squad on 8 August and there will naturally be some dejected players.

Hooker Bongi Mbonambi will lead the Boks for the first time and after last week’s tepid showing at Ellis Park when the Boks limped to a 22-21 win over the Pumas, the skipper will need to lead from the front with a better effort.

Boks, Bongi Mbonambi

Bongi Mbonambi of South Africa warms up before his squad’s Rugby Championship match against New Zealand at Mt Smart Stadium on 15 July 15, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo: Dave Rowland/Getty Images)

Throughout the Rugby Championship campaign and into this weekend’s ‘friendly’, the Boks have had 43 players in the squad. And all but scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse will have enjoyed some game time.

Although the three matches played so far this year and Sunday’s fourth encounter are important in determining the final squad, the truth is that very few places have been up for grabs since the end of 2022.

Players such as Munster lock Jean Kleyn and prop Gerhard Steenekamp are new additions this season while flank/hooker Deon Fourie only made his Test debut in 2022 at the age of 35.

Athletic prop

Steenekamp is unlikely to force his way into the final RWC 2023 squad, but that shouldn’t detract from his big day. It’s been quite a rise for the Bulls man and even if he misses out on the main show, he is now in the Bok reckoning.

“We always talk about road maps and we have 90 guys that we follow every week based on their actions in matches,” Nienaber said about Steenekamp’s selection to the squad last month after Ox Nche suffered a pectoral muscle injury.

“He didn’t know it, but Gerhard was on our radar and we were keeping an eye on him. We have a pecking order in terms of how we see guys perform, so it was easy for us to draw him in because of those road maps.

“Personally, I didn’t know him, but his character that was described to us was a guy we felt would fit in well within the squad.

“Whenever I looked at his games I looked at them from a defensive point of view because that’s my area, Gerhard, for me, is a guy who’s not afraid to make a good tackle, he’s a very hard worker and a very athletic prop.

Boks, Malcolm Marx

Pablo Matera of Argentina tackled by Malcolm Marx and Pieter-Steph du Toit of South Africa during their 2023 Castle Lager Rugby Championship clash at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg on 29 July, 2023. (Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix)

“When we brought him in, we knew we didn’t have to worry about that side of things because I’ve seen about 500 of his tackles and he’s fine there.”

Kleyn is also on the fringe of selection because of the versatility Franco Mostert brings with his ability to play lock and flank. It’s unlikely that five specialist locks will make the final RWC cut, but Kleyn at least has another opportunity make the coaches think again.

Flank Jean-Luc du Preez, who is on the bench for the Pumas clash, is another who will need to catch the eye.

Scrumhalves Herschel Jantjies and Cobus Reinach had seemingly both fallen behind Grant Williams in the pecking order for the third scrumhalf berth. But Williams’ concussion, sustained against Argentina at Ellis Park last week, might have opened the door.

“We’ve been emphasising the importance of giving as many players as possible a fair chance to show what they can do with an eye on finalising our Rugby World Cup squad, so we are pleased to give Herschel and Jean-Luc an opportunity to play,” Nienaber said.

“This is going to be a massive physical battle and there will be a lot of pressure on the players mentally and physically, which is exactly the type of situation we would like to see them in as we enter our World Cup warm-up games.

“What Deon (Fourie) gave us when he came off the bench in Australia was intensity and the stuff that he brought to the Stormers,” Nienaber added.

“If Deon also brings what he brought at the end-of-year tour, we’ll also be happy, which is why we select him so that we can see the Deon Fourie we see week in and week out.

“We know Franco (Mostert) only played one game against New Zealand … we know our forwards didn’t do us any favours in the first 20 minutes.

“There are numerous reasons behind that start, but when Franco stepped in at number seven, he showed he could operate there.”

Agustin Creevy of Argentina

Agustin Creevy of Argentina enters the pitch prior to a Rugby Championship match between Argentina Pumas and New Zealand All Blacks at Estadio Malvinas Argentinas on July 08, 2023 in Mendoza, Argentina. (Photo by Daniel Jayo/Getty Images)

Fourie wants to be his own man

Fourie has been compared to Schalk Brits. The latter played hooker and flank for the Boks and there is a sense Fourie might fulfil the same role at the World Cup.

Although it might be a similar playing role, Fourie is his own man and doesn’t love the comparison.

“If I play my cards right, I’d fulfil that (Brits’) role anytime, but hopefully I won’t be seen as a Schalk Brits, rather Deon Fourie,” he said.

“When the Springboks won the RWC in 2019 I was still playing in the French second division, and I was on a train on the way back from a match. So, it would mean a lot if I could be there.

“If you had told me a few years ago I would have had the No 6 jersey on my back I would have laughed,” said Fourie. “It’s a big number in South Africa, so hopefully I can do it justice.”

Creevy century

Former Pumas skipper Augustin Creevy will become the first Argentina international to reach 100 Test caps when he comes off the bench. It’s an incredible milestone for one of the best players of his era.

In all, there are five changes to the Pumas side that lost last week – four in the backline – as coach Michael Cheika tweaks his options with a view to RWC 2023.

Emiliano Boffelli returns in the wing. Cheika has kept largely the same forward pack, replacing only injured lock Lucas Paulos with Pedro Rubiolo in the number four jersey.

Fullback Juan Cruz Mallia has been suspended for two weeks, having clattered into the head of Bok scrumhalf Williams after only 11 seconds last week in an attempt to charge down a kick.

The outcome of that hearing has not been released by officials, but Mallia has not been included in the matchday 23.

He has been replaced at fullback by Martin Bogado, with Boffelli coming in on the wing in the place of Mateo Carreras.

Boffelli’s return boosts the home side’s goal-kicking, with flyhalf Santiago Carreras missing three relatively simple shots at goal last week that proved very costly.

Santiago Cordero replaces Juan Imhoff on the other wing, while the final change sees Gonzalo Bertranou come in at scrumhalf for Lautaro Bazan Velez. DM

Teams:

Argentina

15 Martin Bogado, 14 Emiliano Boffelli, 13 Lucio Cinti, 12 Santiago Chocobares, 11 Santiago Cordero, 10 Santiago Carreras, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Juan Martin Gonzalez, 7 Santiago Grondona, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Pedro Rubiolo, 3 Francisco Gomez Kodela, 2 Julian Montoya (captain) 1 Thomas Gallo

Reserves: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Joel Sclavi, 18 Eduardo Bello, 19 Guido Petti, 20 Facundo Isa, 21 Lautaro Bazan Velez, 22 Tomas Albornoz, 23 Matias Moroni.

South Africa

15 Damian Willemse, 14 Canan Moodie, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Franco Mostert, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Bongi Mbonambi (captain), 1 Trevor Nyakane

Reserves: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Gerhard Steenekamp, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Jean-Luc du Preez, 20 Evan Roos, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Jesse Kriel 23 Kurt-Lee Arendse.

Referee: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia)
Kick-off: 21:10 (SA Time) – 5 August

 Additional reporting by Reuters.

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