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Expect plenty of collateral damage when Springbok RWC 2023 squad is named

Expect plenty of collateral damage when Springbok RWC 2023 squad is named
Siya Kolisi lifts the Webb Ellis Cup after winning the Rugby World Cup 2019 final in Tokyo against England at International Stadium Yokohama on 2 November 2019. (Photo: Juan Jose Gasparini / Gallo Images / Getty Images)

Several very good players will miss Springbok Rugby World Cup selection. While disappointing, it’s a triumph for the Boks’ planning.

It’s a sign of growth that, four years ago, South Africans didn’t really know who was good enough to make the Springbok Rugby World Cup squad. Out of the 31 places available then, it was difficult to fill the roster. 

Had Herschel Jantjies not emerged as well as he did in the early stages of 2019, the third scrumhalf berth would’ve been a coin toss between two or three journeymen. This time around, Jantjies is likely to miss out as there are five credible candidates for the position. 

And despite Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira’s retirement, loosehead props are falling over themselves to make the squad. Outside backs anyone? It’s got to the point where Makazole Mapimpi doesn’t appear to be a shoo-in, with the rise of Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie.

Flyhalf Manie Libbok has come along and solved a problem after Elton Jantjies’ form and private life fell off a cliff. Centre Andre Esterhuizen has charged into the reckoning with the same impact he smashes into opponents on the field, while flank/hooker Deon Fourie offers versatility in the Schalk Brits mould of four years ago. 

Springbok Rugby World Cup squad announced

The Springboks’ 33-man squad for Rugby World Cup 2023 in France will be named on 8 August. Which nine of these 42 players will miss out on final selection? (Photos: Supplied)

In some ways, this will be coach Jacques Nienaber and the rest of the management’s easiest squad to pick. But in truth, it will be the hardest because out of the 42 contenders, nine excellent and deserving players will miss out on the final 33-man squad.

Stalwart Franco Mostert, one of 26 survivors still in the mix from that glorious 2019 campaign in Japan, could be the biggest omission. He has failed to impress in two outings this year and, with plenty of flank and lock options, his prospects are shaky.

Mostert’s place could depend on whether Nienaber opts for a split of 19 forwards and 14 backs or an 18/15 dissection. If it’s the former, then Mostert should make the cut, with centre Esterhuizen losing out. But if 15 backs travel, the big midfielder should be on the plane at Mostert’s expense.

It also looks to be a choice between Marvin Orie and Jean Kleyn for the fourth lock position, while Fourie is set to go as the third hooker/sixth loose forward.

Orie runs the lineout in Lood de Jager’s absence and has been in the squad for years, while Kleyn has just come in. The Munster-based Kleyn is more of a No 4 lock in the Eben Etzebeth mould, while Orie is a No 5. With De Jager and RG Snyman nailed down, Orie could be the unlucky one in this instance.

Marvin Orie of South Africa catches the ball during the Rugby Union international match between South Africa and Georgia at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on July 02, 2021 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

But whichever way you cut it, those who won’t be ensconced at the Boks’ plush Toulon hotel in early September can consider themselves unlucky.

Depth success

While the Springboks’ win rate since the last World Cup is at an acceptable 65%, which is slightly higher than the Boks’ traditional 62% winning percentage, the real success has been in building depth.

Every position has at least two excellent choices and in some cases, a third player could also make a strong claim. That’s the real success of what Nienaber and his staff have achieved between World Cups.

Rugby Championship, Jacques Nienaber

The Rugby Championship Test at Ellis Park was Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber’s last in this competition. He will step down after RWC 2023 in France to take up a position at Irish club Leinster. (Photo: Gordon Arons/Gallo Images)

When you consider the Boks didn’t play any rugby at all in 2020 due to Covid and the impact of the global shutdown, they are going into the defence of their title in good shape.

That’s not to say they will turn up and win RWC 2023, but they’re not in a situation where anyone is irreplicable.

As we saw in Argentina last week, a mix-and-match team with multiple changes played well and performed better than a more settled unit on home soil a week earlier against the same opponents.

As we hurtle towards their opening game on 10 September against Scotland in Marseille, the years of planning and tinkering are coming together.

The wide range of players and skills and the growing and varied attacking game that sees subtle changes as the personnel switches, make the Boks hard for opponents to fathom.

Manie Libbok made his first Test start for the Springboks when they met Australia at Loftus Versfeld. (Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images)

Libbok and Grant Williams at halfback, for instance, will ask vastly different questions of opponents than Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard. Because of the way the squad has been developed between World Cups, the Boks have more firepower in their arsenal.

But they can only choose 23 players on any given day, and as the stakes rise during the tournament, so too might the flamboyance of players such as Moodie, Arendse and Libbok give way to a more pragmatic approach. Again, these are good issues to have.

Nienaber might have had some sleepless nights over having to cull some excellent players, but he won’t have lost sleep over the make-up of the squad he eventually names.

Injury cloud

The potential major weakness of the squad he chooses won’t be over ability, but rather fitness.

Four players – captain Siya Kolisi, prop Ox Nche, Pollard and scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse – have played no Test rugby this year. Lukhanyo Am also suffered a blow to his knee in last week’s 24-13 win over the Pumas in Buenos Aires and the extent of that knock is still unclear.

Williams, if he is named, was concussed at Ellis Park less than two weeks ago after being the victim of a reckless charge-down by Pumas fullback Juan Cruz Mallia.

Williams is still going through his return-to-play protocols, which means he could be named while still technically on the injured list.

That’s a lot of players with health issues hanging over them. But Nienaber and director of rugby Rassie Erasmus have proven to be nothing if not canny operators.

This is also the longest World Cup yet, lasting a little more than seven weeks. There is plenty of time for players to find form, in addition to the fact that the tournament itself doesn’t start for another month.

Players who aren’t named in the final RWC 2023 squad are expected to remain with the group for the two warm-up Tests against Wales and New Zealand over the next fortnight.

Essentially, the Boks will prepare for the tournament with 42 players – almost two full squads – and only bid adieu to the unlucky nine days before the tournament starts. DM

DM’s probable Springbok RWC 2023 squad (18 forwards, 15 backs)

Outside backs:

Willie le Roux, Canan Moodie, Damian Willemse, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Cheslin Kolbe, Makazole Mapimpi

Centres:

Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Jesse Kriel, Andre Esterhuizen

Flyhalves:

Handre Pollard, Manie Libbok

Scrumhalves:

Faf de Klerk, Jaden Hendrikse, Grant Williams

Loose forwards:

Siya Kolisi, Duane Vermeulen, Jasper Wiese, Kwagga Smith, Pieter-Steph du Toit

Utility forward:

Deon Fourie (hooker/flank)

Locks:

Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, RG Snyman, Jean Kleyn

Props:

Steven Kitshoff, Ox Nche, Frans Malherbe, Vincent Koch, Trevor Nyakane, Thomas du Toit

Hookers:

Bongi Mbonambi, Malcolm Marx. DM

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