CRAIG LEWIS identifies 10 overseas-based players who Rassie Erasmus should consider adding to his Bok plans for the 2019 World Cup.
When Erasmus recently fronted up to the media for the first time since taking up his post as South Africa’s director of rugby, he suggested that there were around 10 overseas-based players who could still add value to the Bok setup.
Although Erasmus said he felt SA Rugby could continue to cope with the 30-cap eligibility ruling for those plying their trade overseas, it has been rumoured that this policy could be scrapped in the future. Either way, it will not be in effect in a World Cup year.
This past weekend, it was also reported that Erasmus was already beginning to engage in discussions with a number of overseas-based players who he believes can play a part in the Boks’ World Cup campaign.
While keeping this in mind, these are 10 such players who could well come into the mix:
Ruan Ackermann (loose forward)
The former Lions star has very quickly become a fan favourite at Gloucester, where he has continued to go from strength to strength under the guidance of his father, Johann. The 22-year-old was named the English Premiership Player of the Month for November, and has continued to produce the sort of abrasive performances that should have Erasmus sitting up and taking note. As it is, the Boks could certainly do with some additional depth at No 8 and blindside flank.
Cheslin Kolbe (fullback)
Towards the end of last year, Kolbe was hailed in the French media as the best Top 14 signing of 2017. The 24-year-old has made a remarkable impact since joining Toulouse from the Stormers, and seems to have taken his game to a new level. If Erasmus is willing to back diminutive players with bucket loads of X factor, he shouldn’t look much further than Kolbe, who has the ability to add an attacking spark that the Boks have been missing for some time.
Francois Hougaard (scrumhalf)
The Worcester Warriors scrumhalf left the Bok setup last year under a cloud of disillusionment, with former Bok coach Allister Coetzee having suggested he didn’t boast the requisite Test qualities. It's fair to say that Hougaard hasn’t made the most of all his opportunities at Test level, but he has also been managed terribly after being moved back and forth from wing to scrumhalf. However, his 46 caps of experience should not just be discarded.
Willie le Roux (fullback)
The 28-year-old seems to have become the forgotten Springbok after last featuring at Test level in the historic loss to Italy at the end of 2016. However, he appears to have recently rediscovered some of his best form for Wasps, where he has added a bit more consistency to his occasionally erratic style of play. He is an X-factor player who could add another much-needed option at fullback.
Faf de Klerk (scrumhalf)
De Klerk started nine Tests in 2016, but fell out of favour with both the Boks and Lions last year, before heading to the Sale Sharks. It appears to have been a perfect fit, with the 26-year-old quickly establishing himself as a key member of the starting lineup, while also adding a goal-kicking weapon to his arsenal. Just this past weekend, he was the Man of the Match in the Sharks' English Premiership win against London Irish.
Frans Steyn (utility back)
Steyn made a long-awaited return to the Springbok setup last year, but fell out of the picture after just three brief appearances off the bench against France in June. Coetzee eventually suggested that there were issues when it came to securing Steyn's release from French club Montpellier, but sorting out any of these problems should be priority No 1 for Erasmus. Steyn will be 32 by the time of the 2019 World Cup, but he can certainly add real value as an option at centre or fullback.
Pat Lambie (flyhalf)
In a 'farewell' interview with SA Rugby magazine before leaving the Sharks last year, Lambie insisted that he still had a burning desire to make a return to the Springbok fold, and put himself in contention for the 2019 World Cup. After heading to France, Lambie quickly began to make an impact for Racing 92, but has recently been sidelined with an eye injury. At the age of 27, though, he can still add to his 56 Test caps if he remains injury-free.
Marcell Coetzee (flanker)
This selection is a bit of a bolter considering Coetzee has had such troubles with knee injuries, and is currently facing another several months on the sidelines. Nevertheless, he is the sort of versatile flanker who Erasmus will not have forgotten about as he considers his options ahead of the next World Cup. Coetzee has not played for the Boks since 2015, but if his injury recovery goes according to plan, he could well come back into consideration.
Vincent Koch (prop)
Test-quality tighthead prop depth at Test level remains a prized asset, and the serious injury suffered by Coenie Oosthuizen has certainly brought this into the spotlight once again. Over at Saracens, Koch has become a key member of the English club’s Saffa contingent, and at 27 years old, he has built up the sort of experience that adds to his value in the all-important tighthead position. As it is, Koch has already been strongly linked with a return to South Africa.
Jan Serfontein (centre)
The former Bulls centre was surely the Boks’ best back in 2017, and his presence was sorely missed on the end-of-year tour when he was granted the opportunity to settle in with Montpellier. Nevertheless, his nine Test appearances last year have taken his overall tally to 35 caps, and there is every reason to believe he will remain a key member of the Bok backline over the next couple of years.
Note: Duane Vermeulen was not considered as an overseas-based player as his departure from Toulon has already been confirmed.
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