JON CARDINELLI picks his 31-man World Cup squad, exactly four months before the Springboks’ first fixture against the All Blacks in Yokohama.
A lot can happen between now and 21 September. Injuries are a part of rugby, and we’ve seen many great players missing World Cup tournaments due to serious ailments in the past.
That said, Rassie Erasmus should have a good idea about the makeup of his 31-man squad at this stage.
The Bok coach will have four Tests in the buildup – three in the Rugby Championship, and a friendly against Argentina thereafter – to finalise selections for the global tournament. The team will depart for the World Cup at the end of August, and so that fixture against Japan in Saitama on 6 September won’t feature any fringe players looking to stake a late claim.
Ultimately, Erasmus has less than four months to make the final call on the group of 31.
As mentioned in previous columns, scrumhalf and inside centre remain the biggest concerns for the Boks. Faf de Klerk made a successful return to Test rugby last year, and Erasmus gave two promising youngsters in Embrose Papier and Ivan van Zyl opportunities with a view to selecting them for the 2019 World Cup. It remains to be seen whether both will travel to Japan, as an injury to De Klerk would force Erasmus to pick two inexperienced No 9s in a squad of 23.
For me, the selection of Cobus Reinach would lend the World Cup squad more balance. Like De Klerk, Reinach has taken his game to the next level since moving to England. While it remains a concern that he hasn’t played a Test since 2015, Reinach has been in great form for Northampton this season and deserves a look-in for the coming Rugby Championship.
Damian de Allende is currently the Boks’ first-choice No 12. The Stormers centre has blown hot and cold for franchise and country in recent years, though. Erasmus hasn’t ruled out the selection of Frans Steyn or Jan Serfontein – two players who boast World Cup experience.
The addition of Steyn would give the Boks more attacking and kicking options at 12, as well as a long-range penalty alternative. He would add value to the 31 in the sense that he covers a variety of positions, and could slot in at fullback if Willie le Roux and Damian Willemse are unavailable.
There shouldn’t be any surprises with the selections at lock, hooker and prop below. The makeup of the loose-forward group, however, will be a hotly debated topic in the lead-up to the World Cup squad announcement in late August.
For the first time since the 2015 World Cup, the Boks boast a balanced back row in Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen. It will be interesting to see who Erasmus backs in the other two or possibly even three loose-forward slots. These players have to cover more than one position and offer something in terms of Test experience.
Marcell Coetzee has made an impressive return to the club scene after a lengthy injury layoff. He must be an option for the Boks, and Erasmus must have a look at the versatile loose forward in the coming Rugby Championship. That said, I’m not sure where Coetzee stands in the loose-forward pecking order at present.
Erasmus didn’t recall Francois Louw last year for nothing. The Bok coach rates the Bath-based player highly and Louw has started Tests at No 6, 7 and 8 in recent times. His knowledge and ability at the breakdown will aid the Boks in the World Cup pool game against the All Blacks and in the playoffs.
Jean-Luc du Preez deserves to go as cover for Du Toit in that blindside position. Some will be calling for the selection of Warren Whiteley and Sikhumbuzo Notshe, but these two gifted athletes do not offer as much as Du Preez at the gainline and breakdown.
The Boks are in a fortunate position in that they have some healthy competition in most departments. Thomas du Toit could leapfrog more seasoned Test props such as Wilco Louw and Coenie Oosthuizen if Trevor Nyakane breaks down before the global tournament.
Does South Africa have any swing props beside Nyakane and Du Toit at present? Oosthuizen played loosehead in the early part of his career before a neck injury forced a shift to No 3. It will be interesting to see what happens if Nyakane and Du Toit are both unavailable.
Lizo Gqoboka is playing the best rugby of his career, and should earn a spot if the two premier loosehead options – Beast Mtawarira and Steven Kitshoff – fall foul to injury. Bismarck du Plessis has been spoken about as an experienced alternative to Schalk Brits or Malcolm Marx, while Whiteley may yet force his way in if a seasoned loose forward or two breaks down.
Cheslin Kolbe made his opportunity count last year, and would add terrific value as a player who covers wing and fullback. At the moment, however, Sbu Nkosi and Makazole Mapimpi are too good to ignore.
Aphiwe Dyantyi has been relatively quiet this season. The explosive winger has the potential to light up the World Cup in Japan, though, much like Bryan Habana did at the 2007 tournament.
JON CARDINELLI’S WORLD CUP SQUAD (MAY)
|UTILITY BACK||Damian Willemse|
|OUTSIDE BACKS||Willie le Roux, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Makazole, Mapimpi, Sbu Nkosi|
|MIDFIELDERS||Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Jesse Kriel*, Frans Steyn|
|FLYHALVES||Elton Jantjies, Handré Pollard|
|SCRUMHALVES||Faf de Klerk, Embrose Papier, Cobus Reinach|
|LOOSE FORWARDS||Jean-Luc du Preez, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (c), Francois Louw, Duane Vermeulen|
|LOCKS||Lood de Jager*, Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert, RG Snyman|
|HOOKERS||Schalk Brits, Bongi Mbonambi, Malcolm Marx|
|PROPS||Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Frans Malherbe, Beast Mtawarira*, Trevor Nyakane|
Photos: Henry Browne/Ramsey Cardy/Getty Images