Analysis: Age plot of Bok squad shows encouraging signs

The data shows that the Springbok squad chosen for the B&I Lions series boasts a strong core of experienced players in the prime of their careers.

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In international rugby terms, a player is generally believed to peak between the ages of 26 to 31 years, and is particularly valuable if he boasts over 30 Test caps. At this intersection, players are both experienced on the international stage but physically still in prime condition.

When the ages of the players in the Springbok squad are plotted against their number of Test caps, the results are fascinating.

What becomes clear, is that the Boks boast an established core of players in the prime of their careers. It is unsurprising to see key leaders such as Handre Pollard, Lood de Jager, Steven Kitshoff and Siya Kolisi in this group.

It should be noted that there are only six players in the squad with over 50 caps, but 13 players with between 30 to 49. It would appear, therefore, that this squad is less experienced than the 2009 side that beat the Lions.

However, this is a slightly misleading observation. One needs to take into account that the Springboks did not play rugby for the entire 2020 international season.

It would be reasonable to expect that if the Boks had played last season, key individuals would have earned another plus-minus 10 caps each. This would have meant another five players with over 50 caps in the squad.

One notable outlier is Eben Etzebeth. Etzebeth has 84 caps to his name despite being only 29 years old. He has amassed an extraordinary amount of Test starts for South Africa and is all but certain to become the Springboks’ next Test centurion.

If he remains healthy, there is good cause to expect Etzebeth to become South Africa’s most capped player of all time.

In addition to the core of senior players, the 45-man squad also includes a number of youthful prospects, indicating that Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber have one eye on succession planning.

Players such as Duane Vermeulen, Willie le Roux, and Frans Steyn remain absolutely critical to the Springbok cause, but they are entering the twilight of their careers. As the Springboks start to plan for the 2023 Rugby World Cup and beyond, the Boks will need to prepare for life without their veterans.

The inclusion of players like Jasper Wiese, Aphelele Fassi, Sanele Nohamba and Wandisile Simelane demonstrates that forward planning is very much on the agenda for the Springbok coaches ahead of a jam-packed international calendar.

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