CRAIG LEWIS looks at an injection of youth and fit-again players who could add a different dynamic to the Springboks’ set-up next season.
It’s a bleak time for Springbok and South African rugby, and after a sequence of embarrassing results, trying to find any positives has become a case of mission impossible.
What cannot be denied is that the Boks’ cause has not been helped by untimely injuries. Some poor selections have only made matters worse. What shouldn’t be overlooked, though, is the fact that South Africa does have the player pool to take the national team forward.
With an eye to the future and considering what could be a case of starting with a clean slate, the Bok side could have a very different look in 2017.
One thing we know for sure is that captain Adriaan Strauss will not be around next year after confirming his decision to retire after the 2016 season. It will open the door for the likes of talented Malcolm Marx and Bongi Mbonambi to finally step up for an extended opportunity. At loosehead prop, it may well be time to look at a successor for Beast Mtawarira, and Lizo Gqoboka – who recently started against the Barbarians – could well be that man. At tighthead prop, it should also not be underestimated just how much the Boks have missed injured Julian Redelinghuys and Frans Malherbe, who have bright futures ahead of them.
This is one department where the Boks are blessed with depth. Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Lood de Jager remain fine players in their own right, and are all still under 25 years old, while Franco Mostert and RG Snyman boast plenty of potential.
The absence of Marcell Coetzee this year due to a serious knee injury should not be overlooked. This is the type of player who wears his heart on his sleeve, boasts a massive work rate and puts his body on the line every time he pulls on the green and gold. Jean-Luc du Preez is another supremely talented youngster who could come into his own next year, while Siya Kolisi and Jaco Kriel had their 2016 seasons cut short prematurely due to injury. At No 8, Warren Whiteley should still have a role to play, while the Boks must consider recalling the abrasive Duane Vermeulen, who is still desperate to contribute to the national cause.
It’s almost been forgotten that Cobus Reinach has been unavailable all year due to injury. Just last year, he was probably the unluckiest player to miss out on World Cup squad selection, and is the sort of player with the energy and X factor that will bring him back into the mix next season. At flyhalf, look no further than Handré Pollard, who has been desperately missed by the Boks this year. The Bulls pivot has been declared ready to return to training after recovering from a serious injury, and will have all of Super Rugby to rediscover his form.
At inside centre, the continued omission of Rohan Janse van Rensburg has arguably been the most confusing selection decision of the year, while one should remember that Jan Serfontein was the in-form South African centre in Super Rugby this season before injury struck him down on the eve of the June series. One should also not rule out a return to form for either Damian de Allende or Lionel Mapoe.
Out on the wing, it appears as if the international careers of JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana are winding down, but there are young and exciting alternatives in Jamba Ulengo, Sergeal Petersen, Seabelo Senatla, and Ruan Combrinck. At fullback, the 27-year-old Willie le Roux’s Bok days are far from over. That said, one should not underestimate the potential of a supremely talented youngster such as Warrick Gelant, who was sidelined with a knee injury in 2016.
Ultimately, some bold and brave decisions (with form permitting) could see a young and exciting Bok team look something like this in 2017:
1 Lizo Gqoboka, 2 Malcolm Marx, 3 Julian Redelinghuys/Frans Malherbe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Marcell Coetzee/Jaco Kriel, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez/Siya Kolisi, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 9 Cobus Reinach, 10 Handré Pollard, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 13 Jan Serfontein, 14 Ruan Combrinck/Sergeal Petersen, 15 Warrick Gelant/Willie le Roux.
Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix