The Springbok selectors would do well to assemble a squad of SA-based players to take the fight to Wales in July, writes DEVIN HERMANUS.
Bok coach Jacques Nienaber will reportedly field a team excluding the overseas contingent during the end-of-year tour, especially against England at Twickenham on 26 November, as it falls outside World Rugby’s official Test window.
But why wait when rewarding those players based in South Africa sooner would be to strike while they are red-hot from roughing up the Welsh sides in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship?
Across eight matches played against teams from Wales on home soil, South African sides claimed the maximum five URC points in all eight, while the visitors left without a single point between them. On average, SA sides scored 44 points per game, while a Welsh side scored 13, making the average margin of victory 31 points. South African sides managed an average of 552 metres per game, with Welsh teams achieving a meagre 280m.
After watching his Dragons side twice concede 50 points, to the Vodacom Bulls and the Sharks, coach Dean Ryan said the “gulf in power” will be too great for Wayne Pivac’s Wales to beat the Boks over the three-Test series in two months’ time.
Uncapped youngsters Evan Roos and Leolin Zas have epitomised SA’s dominance over the Welsh as part of the Stormers’ march to the URC playoffs, along with try-scoring machine Seabelo Senatla. Bulls juggernaut Elrigh Louw has left bodies in his wake this season, including Ulster’s Bok No 8 Duane Vermeulen, while skipper Marcell Coetzee’s form bolsters his case for a recall to the national fold.
Kurt-Lee Arendse, Ruan Nortje, Morne van den Berg, Deon Fourie, Werner Kok or Johan Grobbelaar would not look out of place in the green-and-gold jersey, while Vincent Tshituka and Madosh Tambwe must also be in the Bok selection mix, if they can clear up their South African citizenship issues.
Manie Libbok’s game management and pin-point kicking for the Stormers makes him a possible Bok bolter at No 10, given the lack of game time for Handre Pollard and Elton Jantjies in 2022.
Pieter-Steph du Toit, Malcolm Marx, Franco Mostert, Kwagga Smith, Jesse Kriel and Willie le Roux will arrive for Test duty having coasted through the Japanese Top League, while teammates Aphelele Fassi, Bongi Mbonambi, Damian Willemse, Makazole Mapimpi, Steven Kitshoff, Warrick Gelant, Frans Malherbe, Thomas du Toit and Ox Nche have been hardened by fronting up to European opponents in the URC.
If selected to face Wales, Cheslin Kolbe, Eben Etzebeth and Cobus Reinach will return home after toiling in the Top 14, and ditto for Faf de Klerk, Lood de Jager and Vincent Koch in the English Premiership.
Andre Esterhuizen is always on the national radar, yet helping Harlequins retain their domestic title in the northern hemisphere might leave the midfield bruiser jaded for a trip to southern comforts. So, too, playing locally based players for the Boks in July will have them fresher than when the SA franchises are preparing them for the 2022-23 URC campaign later this year.
Nienaber must play the Boks’ best lineup some time before the start of the Rugby Championship in August, especially in preparation for two Tests against the All Blacks in SA.
But selecting young guns – and the odd hungry veteran – to soften up the Welsh Dragons will afford skipper Siya Kolisi and his troops a welcome break before the old enemy arrives.