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Fourie’s omission from Bok alignment camp signals probable end of short, but brilliant Test career

Fourie’s omission from Bok alignment camp signals probable end of short, but brilliant Test career
Deon Fourie's short but stellar Test career could be over after being omitted from a national alignment camp this week. (Photo: Juan Jose Gasparini/Gallo Images)

Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus has revealed a little about his plans for 2024 with a 43-man training squad that has small pointers about what to expect.

Surprise 2023 Rugby World Cup final hero Deon Fourie might not have another chance to reprise the gladiatorial role he fulfilled so wonderfully in Paris 14 weeks ago, after being omitted from a Springbok alignment camp.

Fourie, now 37, is certainly not the future for Springbok rugby, but he still has a Player of National Interest (Poni) contract (where the South African Rugby Union pays a portion of his salary at the Stormers), which makes his initial omission curious.

Fourie has not retired from Test rugby and sources at the Stormers say he was devastated to be overlooked for this first camp of 2024, which starts on 5 March.

While it’s obvious that Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus has to combine winning with rebuilding in certain positions, leaving out Fourie suggests a slight change in approach.

In the short term, the powerful flank/hooker could still fulfil a leadership and mentorship role for the Boks. But in the cutthroat world of professional sports, age and the arrival of promising young players, appears to spell the end of Fourie’s, short but dynamic 13-Test international career.

Erasmus and former coach Jacques Nienaber picked Fourie for a Test debut at the age of 35 in 2022, with a very specific task and role in mind. He provided the Boks with flexibility on the bench as someone able to play both flank, and hooker.

Rassie Erasmus

Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus. (Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images)

RasNaber were no strangers to using a 6-2 split between forwards and back on the bench well before Fourie’s belated arrival on the scene.

But as we now know, Fourie’s particular skills, his ability to forage manically and win the breakdown battle, coupled with his mobility and high work rate and skills as a hooker, allowed the coaches to hatch another plan. The 7-1 split on the bench.

That particular tactic needs a Fourie-type player, who can cover two crucial positions. It also needs a Kwagga Smith, who can play in the forwards, or on the wing.

RasNaber deployed the 7-1 twice at the World Cup, against Ireland in the Pool stages and against the All Blacks in the final. It just about worked in the main game at the Stade de France, although Fourie had to play 75 minutes of the final after hooker Bongi Mbonambi was injured early.

It wasn’t the ideal scenario and while Fourie was colossal in the loose and tight loose, the Bok lineout fell apart as Fourie battled to connect with his jumpers.

Losing that set-piece battle so badly, gave the All Blacks a foothold in the game. The Boks were just about good enough and Fourie rightly earned massive praise for his brilliance in almost every facet of the game in the chilly Parisian night.

Does it mean the 7-1 might be consigned to history — at least for now — with Fourie’s omission?

Marco van Staden

Marco van Staden can play flank and hooker. (Photo: Franco Arland/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

Marco van Staden, who is in the squad, played a few minutes at hooker at RWC 2023, but when the crunch really came, he wasn’t viewed as the viable option to make the 7-1 split work. He might be asked to do it again.

Last year Fourie was selected for a specific task and fulfilled his role heroically and brilliantly, but it appears to be “job well done and thanks very much”.

When viewed purely as a flank, then Fourie’s omission makes more sense. There is a line of flanks, in this case, opensides, waiting to play.

Captain Siya Kolisi is still available (although not available for this camp) and playing well for Racing 92 in France and Smith is also distinguished No 6.

Openside is also Van Staden’s preferred position and uncapped looseforwards and hookers such as Cameron Hanekom and Johan Grobbelaar from the Bulls and Marnus van der Merwe from the Cheetahs have been included. Van der Merwe has occasionally played flank.

Dayimani overlooked

While this is only an initial squad and things could change with four months until the Boks’ first Test assignments of the year, it’s also an indicator of what lies ahead.

And what seems to be clear is that dynamic Stormers flank Hacjivah Dayimani is not part of the Boks’ plans.

It’s tough on a player that brings so much X-factor to the back row. He constantly performs at a high level playing an unusual, all-action brand of rugby that does come with some risk, but more often than not, with high reward for the Stormers.

Test rugby is of course, much more claustrophobic and severe on mistakes and that could be the reason Dayimani has been overlooked — for now.

Hacjivah Dayimani

Hacjivah Dayimani in action for the Stormers. He was one of the unlucky players overlooked for the Bok alignment camp. (Photo: Steve Haag Sports/Gallo Images)

There are always many good players not invited to alignment camps and coaches do not have to justify every omission either.

Others who might feel disappointed at their omission include Sharks flank Phepsi Buthelezi and Lions No 8 Francke Horn, which simply underlines with depth of quality among South Africa’s looseforward stocks.

The Lions had no representatives in the Springboks’ victorious RWC 2023 squad, but this training group sees six members from the improving club invited to camp.

There will always be raised eyebrows about who is left out, but Erasmus has earned the right to be trusted. While he is not a magician and won’t always be infallible in terms of selection, he does know what he’s doing. His record proves it.

Domestic reward

The group of 43 includes 39 domestic players and four Japan-based players, who are currently injured and doing their rehabilitation in South Africa. The group will gather on Tuesday 5 March for two days of boardroom sessions to get everyone up to speed on the way forward this season.

Nineteen individuals were members of the 2023 Rugby World Cup-winning team, including Ox Nche, Frans Malherbe (both props), Mbonambi (hooker), Van Staden (flank) and Canan Moodie (utility back).

A handful of players, meanwhile, will get to work with some of the coaching staff again after either being involved in the set-up before at alignment camp or SA ‘A’ level, including Sanele Nohamba, Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu and Suleiman Hartzenberg.

Others such as Jan-Hendrik Wessels, Quan Horn, Neethling Fouche and Marnus van der Merwe, among others will have their first taste of Springbok rugby.

In all, there are 27 capped Boks in the group, while new assistant coaches Jerry Flannery and Tony Brown will be involved for the first time.

“We are delighted that the new coaching team will meet in person for the first time and that we will have the opportunity to present solid structures and the Springbok culture and way of doing things to the invited players,” Erasmus said.

“The focus at this camp will be to get everyone on the same page for the 2024 season and we believe this will lay a good foundation for us looking forward.

“Jerry (Flannery) and Tony (Brown) are going to play vital roles in this coaching team, and we are excited to see them along with our other coaching staff put proper steps into action as we prepare for the challenging season ahead.”

“This bunch of players includes several individuals who have been part of our structures in the last six years. Their experience and familiarity with the way we do things at the Springboks will be invaluable in guiding the younger players, while others have been exposed to it before by representing the SA ‘A’ team that faced Munster and the Bristol Bears in November 2022.

“There are also a few new players in the mix, who have proven their worth at provincial level and we are excited to see them receive this opportunity and get a real feel about what is expected of them at the highest level.”

Training squad

Forwards 

Eben Etzebeth (Sharks), Neethling Fouche (Stormers), Johan Grobbelaar (Bulls), Mpilo Gumede (Bulls), Cameron Hanekom (Bulls), Andre-Hugo Venter (Stormers), Vincent Koch (Sharks), Elrigh Louw (Bulls), Wilco Louw (Bulls), Frans Malherbe (Stormers), Bongi Mbonambi (Sharks), Malcolm Marx (Kubota Spears), Ntuthuko Mchunu (Sharks), Salmaan Moerat (Stormers), Ox Nche (Sharks), Ruan Nortje (Bulls), Evan Roos (Stormers), Kwagga Smith (Shizuoka Blue Revs), Gerhard Steenekamp (Bulls), Marnus van der Merwe (Cheetahs), Ruben van Heerden (Stormers), Marco van Staden (Bulls), Ruan Venter (Lions), Jan-Hendrik Wessels (Bulls).

Backs

Lukhanyo Am (Sharks), Kurt-Lee Arendse (Bulls), Faf de Klerk (Canon Eagles), Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu (Stormers), Suleiman Hartzenberg (Stormers), Jaden Hendrikse (Sharks), Jordan Hendrikse (Lions), Quan Horn (Lions), Herschel Jantjies (Stormers), Jesse Kriel (Canon Eagles), Willie le Roux (Bulls), Manie Libbok (Stormers), Makazole Mapimpi (Sharks), Canan Moodie (Bulls), Sanele Nohamba (Lions), Morne van den Berg (Lions), Henco van Wyk (Lions), Grant Williams (Sharks), Damian Willemse (Stormers). DM

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