SARugbymag.co.za looks at the Springboks’ back-row options for the upcoming World Cup in Japan.
Siya Kolisi (flank)
The inspirational captain. Plenty has been written about Kolisi’s life, rising from the Zwide township to become the first black Springbok captain. Kolisi has thankfully managed to fight his way back from a knee injury and prove his fitness in time to be able to lead his country in his second World Cup experience. Despite a stop-start season and managing only two Tests, the 28-year-old has definitely not looked short of puff. Kolisi put in an excellent 50 minutes in the send-off Test against Argentina in Pretoria and promisingly lasted longer in the warm-up against Japan with 66 minutes in hot and humid conditions in Saitama. Coach Rassie Erasmus has suggested that Kolisi will lead the team against the All Blacks and Italy, but be rested in the easier pool games against Namibia and Canada.
Duane Vermeulen (No 8/flank)
Duane Vermeulen is a vital cog in the Bok pack, playing an important role not only on the field, especially in terms of defensive organisation, but leading off it as well. Vermeulen remains one of the best in his position in Test rugby, having established himself in one of the strongest loose trios in the world alongside Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit. It is scarcely believable that Vermeulen was largely overlooked by the Boks in 2016 and 2017, managing just four Test starts in that time. Vermeulen’s breakdown expertise allows Kolisi and Du Toit to roam free in the wider channels, bringing an important balance to the loose trio. At 33 years old, Vermeulen will probably be playing in his final World Cup and determined to get his hands on the trophy.
Pieter-Steph du Toit (flank/lock)
The bruiser in the loose trio, Du Toit has emphatically answered questions surrounding his switch from lock to blindside flank with a number of incredible performances over the last two years. Simply put, his impact in the No 7 jersey has been nothing short of immense. Du Toit’s work rate is something to behold, given his 2m, 119kg frame. Having just earned his 50th cap against Japan, Du Toit is one of the favourites to be named World Rugby Player of the Year for 2019. If he does get the award, it would have been rightly earned.
Francois Louw (flank/No 8)
The most experienced loose-forward option at Rassie Erasmus’ disposal, Francois Louw looks set to be used as an impact option off the bench in the bigger games. Louw rarely gets the headlines or praise for what he does, but that does not make it any less important to the Boks’ cause. He is willing to do the dirty work around the park and has played a vital part in a number of Rugby Championship wins, with some key turnovers when the Boks have come under pressure on their own line. A veteran of 69 Tests, Louw has the know-how to make a timely – if underrated impact – in the big moments.
Kwagga Smith (flank/No 8)
The breakthrough player in terms of flank options, Smith’s made his first Test appearance against Wales in Washington last year. Following that Test, he did not add another cap to his collection in 2018 and seemed to be out of favour. However, Smith emerged as one of the Lions’ key players in 2019 and simply forced his way back into the Bok set-up. Smith’s Super Rugby form was simply too good to ignore. Smith has found Test rugby far more comfortable this year and while he remains a bit lightweight, he more than makes up for it with an incredible work rate. His speed to the ball is also an asset to the Boks. Given that Louw was on the bench against Japan, and will probably continue in that role against the All Blacks, Smith will be favoured to start against both Canada and Namibia.
Schalk Brits (surprise No 8 cover)
A surprise name to throw into the mix. Yet, before leaving for Japan, Erasmus suggested that he may utilise Brits in the back row at some time during the tournament. Brits was selected as one of three hookers in the 31-man squad but has the right attributes to make a temporary shift to No 8 a success. Most memorably, Brits returned to the Stormers from Saracens on a short-term loan in 2011 as emergency cover after the Cape franchise lost Vermeulen, Kolisi and Pieter Louw to injuries. Brits came off the bench as a flank in the Vodacom Super Rugby semi-final against the Crusaders and had a good impact, carrying strongly while posing a threat at the breakdown. The Boks’ first-choice loose trio will definitely need a break at some time in the pool stages, so it is realistic to think a temporary shift for the 38-year-old could happen.
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