In the first of a six-part series, JON CARDINELLI highlights the Springboks’ quality in depth and where the world champions can improve in the next four-year cycle.
Aphelele Fassi must play for the Boks in 2020. It’s my understanding that the national coaches will give the Sharks rookie an opportunity in the coming months, although much will depend on when the game is given the green light to resume and whether Test matches will in fact be played.
The problem – and it’s a healthy one that South Africa didn’t have two years ago – is that South Africa is currently spoiled for choice in the back three. Fassi is a special player, but then so too are the incumbents.
Erasmus’ decision to recall Willie le Roux in 2018 – and back the mercurial fullback throughout the 2019 World Cup – has been vindicated. While Le Roux is universally recognised for his individual attacking strengths, it was his ability to organise the Boks from the back that boosted the team’s campaign in Japan last year.
Le Roux will remain a key man going forward. He will be tasked with mentoring future fullbacks like Warrick Gelant, Damian Willemse and Fassi.
While those three youngsters are undoubtedly gifted, all three lack experience at this level – Gelant and Willemse have six starts between them – and will need an opportunity to develop.
|2019 WORLD CUP SQUAD MEMBERS||WILLIE LE ROUX (61), WARRICK GELANT (9), DAMIAN WILLEMSE (6)||MAKAZOLE MAPIMPI (14), CHESLIN KOLBE (14), S’BU NKOSI (11)|
|OTHER SQUAD MEMBERS 2018-2019||APHIWE DYANTYI (13), TRAVIS ISMAIEL (1), DILLYN LEYDS (1)|
|POSSIBLE BOLTERS||APHELELE FASSI||YAW PENXE. ROSKO SPECMAN, MADOSH TAMBWE, RABZ MAXWANE|
*Test caps in brackets
The management of Willemse in particular is going to be fascinating. Within the national setup, the coaches believe that the Stormers flyhalf’s best position is fullback. Will Willemse get the opportunity to realise his potential in the coming years, though, with Le Roux the likely first-choice right up to the Lions series, and the likes of Gelant, Fassi and another gifted player in Dillyn Leyds pushing for a chance?
Erasmus and Nienaber will have plenty of options on the wings. In 2018, Erasmus took a chance when he backed two rookies in Aphiwe Dyantyi and S’bu Nkosi in the Test series against England. While Dyantyi performed consistently and was eventually named World Rugby’s Breakthrough Player of the Year, Nkosi’s struggle with injuries opened the door for Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe to make an impression.
Dyantyi tested positive for a banned substance in 2019 and did not feature for the Boks during their successful Rugby Championship and World Cup campaigns. Mapimpi continued to develop as a finisher and as a high ball exponent, while Kolbe emerged as the one of the best all-round backs at the tournament in Japan.
Mapimpi maintained his impressive work-rate and appetite for scoring during the early stages of the 2020 Super Rugby competition, as did Kolbe in the Top 14. The duo, along with an ever-improving Nkosi, should feature in the lead-up to the Lions series.
There’s no risk of complacency when one considers how many other wings are pushing for a spot in the national squad. Madosh Tambwe has sharpened his aerial skills since joining the Sharks from the Lions. The Kings’ Yaw Penxe and the Cheetahs’ Rabz Maxwane are also on the Bok coaches’ radar.
Bringing these players into the setup sooner rather than later will have long-term benefits for the national side. Even if they don’t receive game time, it’s important that they experience the team’s systems and culture so that they are ready to slot in when called upon down the line.
There will be injury setbacks and different players will be needed for different challenges. The Boks needed 33 players to win the 2019 World Cup, and they will certainly need a wider group to succeed – and ultimately maintain their No 1 ranking – over the next four years.
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