After 10 rounds of Super Rugby, CRAIG LEWIS picks a Springbok side that could line up for the June Tests against England.
15. Warrick Gelant
The fullback position has remained a problematic one at national level over the past couple of seasons, but Gelant is one player who is making a strong claim for the No 15 jersey. The 22-year-old has always been blessed with an abundance of talent, but this season he has complemented that with excellent decision-making and a greater appreciation of the all-round attributes required at fullback.
14. Ruan Combrinck
Combrinck has looked hungry and motivated for action since making his return from injury. Although he is still working his way back to his best form, Combrinck just edges out Sbu Nkosi in this selection due to his physicality and strong kicking game. With his big right boot, Combrinck not only provides another exit option, but is also capable of slotting long-range goal kicks.
13. Lukhanyo Am
At this stage of the season, it’s difficult to separate Am and Jesse Kriel, who has also been in superb form this season. However, Am has been the standout performer in the Sharks’ backline this season. It’s not just his strength on attack, but his ability to read the game and make an impact on defence that puts him in line for what would be a well overdue starting opportunity with the Boks.
12. Jan Serfontein
Although big Sharks centre André Esterhuizen has shown glimpses of his ability over the first 10 rounds, it remains difficult to look past an overseas selection in Serfontein. The 25-year-old was one of the consistent standout performers for the Springboks last year, and remains a regular starter for French club Montpellier. Unless a local player such as Esterhuizen makes a massive impact over the next few weeks, Serfontein looks likely to receive a recall.
11. Madosh Tambwe
This remains a position where Bok coach Rassie Erasmus is going to have to gamble. Unless he looks to a veteran such as JP Pietersen, it’s likely that he will need to back a debutant in the No 11 jersey. In recent weeks, Tambwe appears to be the man in the best form on the left wing, having taken over from injured superstar Aphiwe Dyantyi. The latter looked to be the frontrunner after his early-season form, but the fact remains that he is only likely to return to action just before the June Test series. As a result, Tambwe – who is big, strong and quick – could be a Bok bolter.
10. Handré Pollard
Pollard has been performing with confidence and poise in recent weeks, with his return to full fitness coinciding with a return to top form. There is a fair bit of competition for the No 10 jersey, with Elton Jantjies, Rob du Preez, Damian Willemse and even Pat Lambie certainly still worth consideration. Yet it’s Pollard who has sent out a strong reminder of his all-round capabilities.
9. Cobus Reinach
There have been some encouraging signs from local youngsters such as Ivan van Zyl and Cameron Wright this season, but it would be a big risk for Erasmus to throw either of them straight into the Test cauldron. Ross Cronjé was the incumbent Bok No 9 last year, but he has been recently sidelined with injury. One would think the Bok coach has to look abroad, and it’s interesting to note that Nic Groom recently returned from Northampton. However, his former teammate at the English club, Cobus Reinach, remains an exciting option that should not be overlooked by the Boks.
8. Warren Whiteley
Although the No 8 has been struggling with a chronic knee injury, he should be able to feature in the Lions’ final couple of games before the June Test series. That should be enough for Whiteley to put himself back in line for Springbok selection considering the limited options in this position. Dan du Preez could become a strong contender if he continues to perform in the coming weeks, while Duane Vermeulen is a worthy overseas option, but it’s still hard to look past Whiteley.
7. Jean-Luc du Preez
The physical Sharks flanker boasts an immense work rate. He is an archetypal modern-day blindside flank who carries the ball strongly, defends with purpose and possesses the sort of mobility that belies his size. The youngster is also ranked first in the competition for offloads (21) and would be an inspired selection at No 7 for the Boks.
6. Siya Kolisi
The Stormers skipper has not found his best form this season, but there can be no questioning his effort. If Erasmus is willing to go without an out-and-out fetcher in the openside role, he should continue to back Kolisi, who was a key performer for the Springboks last year.
5. Lood de Jager
De Jager has been in inspired form for the Bulls this year, and while Pieter-Steph du Toit remains a strong contender, he has been predominantly playing on the flank for the Stormers of late. De Jager looks to have a new lease of life and remains the in-form No 5 at the moment.
4. Eben Etzebeth/RG Snyman
The reputation of Etzebeth dictates that he is likely to earn selection in June even though he is yet to feature this season due to injury. The big lock should be back in time for the Tests against England, but in his Super Rugby absence, powerful youngster RG Snyman has emerged this season as one of the leading No 4 locks in the country.
3. Wilco Louw
It’s impossible to look past the scrumming power of young Louw. Besides his size and strength, Louw boasts superb technique, while he is also a big contributor on defence, and as a ball-carrier and cleaner at the breakdown. He should remain the incumbent Bok No 3 for good reason.
2. Malcolm Marx
Not much is needed to be said. The 2017 SA Rugby Player of the Year has carried his superb form over into this season, with the Lions star now firmly established as one of the leading hookers in world rugby.
1. Beast Mtawarira
The Sharks veteran has wound back the clock this season to produce some of the best rugby of his career. Steven Kitshoff is the young gun who continues to push Mtawarira for that No 1 jersey, but the recent form of the 32-year-old simply cannot be overlooked. Mtawarira has earned 98 Test caps, and should reach that historic century mark against England.
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