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New and old for Springboks as Erasmus shows his first hand of 2024

New and old for Springboks as Erasmus shows his first hand of 2024
Flyhalf Handré Pollard has been included in the 35-man squad even though he is not eligible for the Wales Test as it falls outside the prescribed Test window. (Photo: Tom Jenkins / Getty Images)

There are 11 uncapped players in an initial 35-man Springbok squad named by coach Rassie Erasmus at the weekend.

Lots of new faces and many old ones – just as expected then, for the first official Springbok training squad of the year.

Coach Rassie Erasmus revealed 35 players, only 33 of whom will contest the 23 places to face Wales on 22 June at Twickenham, and there really isn’t a surprise among them.

In all, 11 players are uncapped and the potential Bulls Springboks were not considered as they’re still in contention for the United Rugby Championship (URC) title. And four injured players – prop Steven Kitshoff, lock Lood de Jager, Lukhanyo Am and scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse – were omitted.

Throw in two more non-starters for Wales – Handré Pollard and Jasper Wiese – as the Test falls outside of World Rugby’s prescribed international window, and the Boks will have a changed look.

Wiese is suspended for six weeks anyway, but both he and Pollard have been permitted to train with the squad and were named among the 35. Other European-based Boks such as skipper Siya Kolisi and Trevor Nyakane are not eligible for the match.

The Lions provide four uncapped players in the squad in flyhalf/centre Jordan Hendrikse (the brother of Jaden), fullback Quan Horn, wing Edwill van der Merwe and scrumhalf Morné van den Berg.

The uncapped trio of flank Phepsi Buthelezi, flyhalf Siya Masuku and centre Ethan Hooker from the Sharks join the Stormers quartet of loose forward Ben-Jason Dixon, utility back Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, prop Neethling Fouché and hooker Andre-Hugo Venter as the other uncapped players.

Short and long-term goals

Sharks centre Ethan Hooker is one of 11 uncapped players in the first Springbok squad of the year. (Photo: Steve Haag Sports / Gallo Images)

Springboks training

Malcolm Marx has been named in a 35-man Bok squad to face Wales on 22 June. Marx was injured in training during RWC 2023. (Photo:Jean Catuffe / Getty Images)

While the squad that will face Ireland in July might look considerably different when all players are eligible for selection, this group is part of short and long-term strategy.

Some of the new caps will make their debuts against Wales, that is obvious. Some will be cut, but Erasmus made it clear that all players named in this group are now securely in the coaching staff’s thinking.

And in a further boost for players who did not make the initial selection now, the fact that two players forced their way into the reckoning despite not featuring in earlier alignment camps, shows that the selection net is cast wide.

 Hooker and Van der Merwe did not participate in either of the Springbok alignment sessions in March and May respectively, as well as the virtual alignment camp hosted early in May, but both are in.

Van der Merwe might also have been included after it emerged that Kurt-Lee Arendse is doubtful for the Ireland series after suffering a fractured cheekbone during the Bulls’ 30-23 URC quarterfinal win over Benetton.

Fellow Bulls playmaker Canan Moodie also underwent surgery to a fractured finger and will almost certainly miss the URC semi-final against Leinster next week.

“We selected a group of players featuring a good mix of youth and experience, and in terms of the young players especially, we believe they have the potential to make the step-up to top international rugby,” Erasmus said. 

“We’ve been following all their performances closely, we had the luxury of presenting our plans to them and getting to know them as individuals off the field at the alignment camps, and we are pleased with the enthusiasm they showed and willingness to learn.

“With the players based in Europe, the UK and Ireland not available for Wales, we anticipate that there will be a few players making their Test debuts in that match. But even for those who do not make the cut, having them in camp and getting the chance to work closely with them on the field will set them and the team in good stead as we prepare for this season and start laying the foundation for the 2027 World Cup in Australia.”

Relationships

The Springbok head coach, Rassie Erasmus, has selected a balance of youth and experience for the first squad of the year. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images)

While Pollard and Wiese, as well as a swathe of Japan-based players technically should not be in the squad because it falls out of the window, good relationships between the Springboks and those clubs have allowed for their inclusion.

It’s a huge season for the defending World Champions as they look to dominate after winning Rugby World Cup 2023 while also building towards RWC 2027.

“We gained immense value by granting a few players a chance to prove what they can do at international level in the last few years leading up to the 2023 World Cup,” Erasmus said.

“Some of the players who made their Test debuts in that time were members of the squad that lifted the trophy in Paris, and we feel it is important that we continue blooding new players as we build toward the future.

“As things stand, we have a bunch of young players that already have Test experience and who know exactly how we operate as a team and what is expected of them at this level, and we have no doubt that we will reap the rewards in the years to come as we continue to increase our squad depth.

“As always there are a few unlucky players who missed out on selection this time, but the door will always be open for them to be called up if the need arises.”

The Wales Test will be followed by the Incoming Series, which features back-to-back Tests against Ireland (ranked second in the world) in Pretoria and Durban (on 6 and 13 July respectively) and a historic first Test against Portugal in Bloemfontein on 20 July.

The Springboks will then turn their attention to the Rugby Championship where they will line up against Australia in Brisbane and Perth (on 10 and 17 August) before facing arch-rivals New Zealand on consecutive weekends in South Africa in Johannesburg and Cape Town (on 31 August and 7 September respectively).

They will then make a short trip to Argentina where they will face the Pumas in Santiago (on 21 September) and then in Nelspruit on 28 September. DM

Springbok training squad (in alphabetical order):

Forwards: Phepsi Buthelezi (Hollywoodbets Sharks), Ben-Jason Dixon (DHL Stormers) Pieter-Steph du Toit (Toyota Verblitz), Joseph Dweba (Stormers), Eben Etzebeth (Sharks), Neethling Fouché (Stormers), Vincent Koch (Sharks), Frans Malherbe (Stormers), Malcolm Marx (Kubota Spears), Bongi Mbonambi (Sharks), Ntuthuko Mchunu (Sharks), Salmaan Moerat (Stormers), Franco Mostert (Honda Heat), Ox Nche (Sharks), Evan Roos (Stormers), Kwagga Smith (Blue Revs), André-Hugo Venter (Stormers), Jasper Wiese (Leicester Tigers).

Backs: Damian de Allende (Wild Knights), Faf de Klerk (Canon Eagles), André Esterhuizen (Harlequins), Aphelele Fassi (Sharks), Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu (Stormers), Jordan Hendrikse (Lions), Ethan Hooker (Sharks), Quan Horn (Emirates Lions), Cheslin Kolbe (Suntory Sungoliath), Jesse Kriel (Canon Eagles), Manie Libbok (Stormers), Makazole Mapimpi (Sharks), Siya Masuku (Sharks), Handré Pollard (Leicester Tigers), Morné van den Berg (Lions), Edwill van der Merwe (Lions), Grant Williams (Sharks).

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