CRAIG LEWIS identifies five players who could have key roles to play for the Springboks in the Rugby Championship.
In the Springboks’ final Rugby Championship game in 2017, Marx produced his most impressive performance at Test level. His Man of the Match effort so nearly inspired the Boks to an upset victory over the All Blacks (they ultimately lost 25-24), while it epitomised just how influential the explosive hooker has become at all levels of the game. Although the 24-year-old missed the June Test series against England due to an injury, there is little doubt that he will reclaim the No 2 jersey for Saturday’s Rugby Championship opener against Argentina in Durban. Marx was in fine form for the Lions throughout the knockout stage of Super Rugby, and he has made no secret of the fact that he is desperate to make up for some lost time in Springbok colours. Particularly considering that the Boks will be without a strong breakdown exponent in Duane Vermeulen, Marx’s strengths over the ball will be key to the team’s cause during the upcoming campaign.
The Springboks’ captain for much of last year has been out of action all year due to a serious injury, but Rassie Erasmus has already stated that he is confident that Etzebeth can come straight back into selection contention. RG Snyman was highly impressive during the June Tests, but one would imagine it won’t take long for Etzebeth to reclaim that No 4 jersey. There are few players as influential as the second-row enforcer when fit and in form, and Erasmus will surely want to settle on his first-choice lock combination as soon as possible. The Boks have been aiming to simulate match-day intensity during pre-tournament training, and Etzebeth is said to have looked extremely impressive during these sessions. He is another player who will be champing at the bit to get back into Test action after an enforced break that may have served as a blessing in disguise for the big man, who carried an immense workload last year.
Marco van Staden
Erasmus made it clear at a press conference last week that Van Staden is a player who was always very much part of his plans and would have started against England if not for injury. It was quite some vote of confidence in the ability of the Bulls star, who offers the Boks a much-needed option as a specialist openside flanker. The Bok coaches have spoken extensively about a three-part plan that includes building the depth of the squad with the 2019 World Cup in mind. Van Staden is a player who falls very much into this category, with Erasmus particularly intent on seeing what the 22-year-old can offer on the Test stage. It will be crucial for the Boks to quickly establish a strong balance to their back row, and in this regard, they will be looking for Van Staden to add a new dimension to their breakdown play.
With Damian de Allende recovering from injury, it can’t be overlooked that Esterhuizen heads into the Rugby Championship as the Springboks’ sole specialist inside centre. Esterhuizen started two Tests for the Boks in June, but the heavy-field conditions certainly didn’t suit the strengths of the burly Sharks midfielder, who impressed with both his ball carrying and offloading in contact during Super Rugby. Both Bok midfield berths, in fact, remain very much of for grabs, with Esterhuizen and De Allende currently battling it out for the No 12 jersey, while there is little to choose between Jesse Kriel and Lukhanyo Am at outside centre. Playing on his home ground and in weather conditions that are predicted to be dry and warm this Saturday, Esterhuizen has a golden opportunity to make a real impression against Argentina, while staking a claim for a continued starting role.
Heading into the Rugby Championship, the Boks will be without the injured S’bu Nkosi and Warrick Gelant, while the game time of Willie le Roux is set to be managed with certain club considerations in mind. Suddenly, just a few weeks after making his Test debut, Dyantyi is the one automatic selection in what will be a new-look Bok back three. The Lions star offers the sort of attacking X factor that the Bok backline desperately needs, and he should head into the upcoming campaign with heightened confidence after making a seamless transition on to the Test stage. Dyantyi’s abilities under the high ball are sure to come under closer scrutiny during the Rugby Championship, but the Boks will also be looking for the 23-year-old to make a mark with ball in hand and through the use of his explosive pace.
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