Rassie and the Boks face some tough selection posers for Ireland due to injury and suspension

Rassie and the Boks face some tough selection posers for Ireland due to injury and suspension
Springbok head coach, Rassie Erasmus at Newlands Southern Sun Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa. 12 March 2024. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus will be digging deeply into his playbook to come up with some solutions to immediate problems.

The season after a World Cup year is generally one of transition for the Springboks and in 2024 that transition might be accelerated in certain positions.

Both Springboks World Cup-winning No 8 from 2019 and 2023 – Duane Vermeulen and Jasper Wiese will be unavailable for the Ireland series in July.

Vermeulen, of course, has retired and will be a part of the broader national coaching team. But Wiese, who was in pole position to finally cement his place as the undisputed first-choice eighth man, has been suspended for six weeks.

Wiese only has himself to blame as he earned his fourth red card in six seasons in England.

In his final match for Leicester Tigers, after a stellar career at the English club, played against Exeter Chiefs last week, Wiese committed a dangerous tackle on Ross Vincent, lifting him off the and dropping him on his head.

He was red-carded for the foul and in his disciplinary hearing was not entitled to full mitigation credit because it was his fourth red card.

Wiese’s suspension was also handed down the day after he was named in an English Premiership team of the season for 2023/24.

Jasper Wiese, Boks

Jasper Wiese during the 2023 Rugby World Cup against Tonga at Stade Velodrome in Marseille, France. 1 October 2023. (Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)


Wiese will be missing in action for the 22 June Test against Wales in London, as well as the salivating two-match home series against Six Nations champions Ireland and a one-off fixture against Portugal.

He is also suspended for the Springboks’ first two games of the Rugby Championship, which are both away in Australia against the Wallabies.

For Bok coach Rassie Erasmus, this suspension presents a real headache but as always, it provides opportunities for others.

Kwagga Smith

Kwagga Smith of South Africa during the Rugby Championship match against Argentina at Kings Park in Durban. 24 September. (Photo: Darren Stewart/Gallo Images)


The established Kwagga Smith would be the obvious replacement based on experience. But Smith is a completely different player to Wiese and Vermeulen who are blunt weapons, happy to carry into contact to provide gain line momentum.

Smith certainly puts himself about and dynamically explodes into contact, often making metres as well, but his skills are more subtle. Smith is magnificent over the ball and because of his mobility is a wonderful link player and menace in the latter stages of games.

Ironically, his versatility might count against him when it comes to the starting berth because he can play anywhere in the back row and also cover a backline position.

If Erasmus opts for a six/two split between forwards and backs on the bench, or even the more controversial seven/one split, then having a multi-dimensional loose forward such as Smith’s among the reserves is crucial.

This situation has therefore opened the door for Stormers No 8 Evan Roos to reignite his Test career.

Roos has four Test caps already but missed the cut for Rugby World Cup 2023 selection last year.

Evan Roos of the Boks

Evan Roos of the Boks during the second Incoming Series Test against Wales at Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein. 9 July 2022. (Photo: Charle Lombard/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

That was mostly to do with the vast depth among the loose forwards but also because Roos was prone to conceding penalties and playing a little too loosely for the Boks’ liking.

Encouragingly he has tidied up both facets of his game during the United Rugby Championship with the Stormers and now looks a much more complete player.

Roos straddles the line between Wiese’s physicality and size, but Smith’s explosive power and pace add another dimension to his play. Roos is a dynamic ball carrier but has sharpened his game, giving away fewer penalties and playing slightly tighter. He lacks experience and the Ireland series will demand a lot of the players mentally as well as physically.

But the other likely options available to Erasmus include the uncapped but highly promising Cameron Hanekom, who shares similar traits to Roos and the more prosaic Elrigh Louw.

Louw has only played three Tests, the last nearly two years ago, and seems to have fallen out of the pecking order on the Bok depth chart.

Erasmus could also turn to Marcell Coetzee for experience at both Test level and of playing for and against Ireland’s best, having spent several seasons at Ulster. But like Louw, Coetzee appears to have dropped out of favour, having earned the last of his 31 caps against Wales in July 2022.

If it’s more experience Erasmus turns to, then the bruising Jean-Luc du Preez might be in line for a recall. The big Sale Sharks loosie has orbited planet Springbok since Erasmus started as director of rugby in 2018 but only played once in the last five years.

Damian Willemse of the Boks

Damian Willemse of the Springboks. (Photo: Anton Geyser/Gallo Images)

Other problems

Springbok fullback Damian Willemse sustained a hand injury against Connacht in a URC match last week and while the full extent of the injury is still uncertain, it has been reported that he could miss the Ireland series.

That would be a huge blow as Willemse has not only been in sensational form for the Stormers this season, but he has been one of the most consistent Test performers over the past three years.

His versatility also allows the Boks to play a seven/one or six/two split and if he is out, it adds another layer of complexity to the Boks’ overall planning.

Willie le Roux, who is closing in on a century of Test caps, is a logical replacement for Willemse, but it’s about where Erasmus turns beyond those two.

There is no real Test experience at fullback amongst the available options but Cheslin Kolbe, Canan Moodie or Kurt-Lee Arendse could slot in. Aphelele Fassi seems to be close to a recall as well, but it is unlikely he will be tossed in against Ireland and it’s more likely he would feature against Wales and Portugal.

Steven Kitshoff

Steven Kitshoff of South Africa. (Photo: Franco Arland/Getty Images)

There is also no clarity on the state of double World Cup-winning Springbok Steven Kitshoff’s knee injury. Last month his short stint at Ulster ended with what looked like a severe knee injury and he returned to South Africa to consult with a specialist.

Fortunately, the Boks are well stocked with experienced prop replacements from Ox Nche to Trevor Nyakane and Thomas du Toit.

Rassie happy

Meanwhile, Erasmus was pleased with the foundation laid at the national team’s second in-person alignment in Cape Town on Wednesday and Thursday, and believed it set a good tone for the season ahead.

A group of 38 players attended the camp — which followed the first alignment camp in Cape Town in March and a series of online alignment sessions earlier in May.

The players participated in a series of gym and off-field strategy sessions presented by the coaching staff to familiarise themselves with the structures the team plans to implement this season.

“This camp was extremely valuable in exposing the players to detailed aspects of the game which we would like to implement this season,” Erasmus said.

“At the first two alignment camps we adopted a broader view of what the coaching staff will look at when it comes to team selection and to introduce the players to the coaches and their ideas, and especially the new members of the coaching team in Tony Brown and Jerry Flannery and national laws advisor Jaco Peyper.

“With our first Test less than a month away, it was vital that we started introducing the players to our new systems, so that they have sufficient time to familiarise themselves with these structures as we plan to select the group of players for the Wales Test and incoming series [against Ireland].” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Would love to see Evan Roos step up to the plate and make himself 1st choice. Think we alao need a hard look at 13 – Am has not been the same player as he was in 2019 for a while now, perhaps injury related, but we need somebody to push Kriel now. A left-field option for fullback is Tyrone Green, who has been excellent in the English game for a while now. He’s probably English qualified or close to it by now as well.

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