Unheralded Lions stars Harold Vorster, Kwagga Smith and Ross Cronjé would be deserved Bok bolters in the 31-man squad for the series against France, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
The first Springbok squad of the year is set to be named at 1pm on Tuesday. From about 1:10pm, you can schedule a reaction of shock and outrage as debate will rage throughout South African rugby circles over unexpected inclusions and omissions.
It’s all part of the fun really, but the fact of the matter is that there is a very serious issue at hand in June when the Boks take on France in a three-Test series.
After last year’s horror season that saw South Africa lose eight games out of 12 and plummet down to seventh in the world rankings, this is sure to be a defining series for numerous players, and certainly the under-fire coaching staff.
Allister Coetzee will have watched the first 13 rounds of Super Rugby with a fair amount of apprehension, as both the Bulls and Cheetahs have endured nightmare campaigns, while the Sharks and Stormers have produced a mixed bag of performances.
Yet, in the midst of it all, there have also been some pleasant surprises, as the Kings have performed beyond expectations, while the Lions have backed up last year’s dream season with a run of outstanding results.
In addition, several previously unheralded players have risen to prominence, and here I’ve singled out just a few uncapped Test players who could come from left-field to earn a surprise call-up to the Boks.
At a time when the Boks are crying out for an inside centre in the absence of the injured Rohan Janse van Rensburg, his replacement at the Lions has emerged as a viable candidate. Big and strong, while boasting an incredible eye for an angle on attack, Vorster would be a superb addition to the Bok squad. His numbers also add up (11 games this season, three tries, 104 carries, 422m made, 12 clean breaks, 26 defenders beaten and an 85.5% tackle success rate).
Just recently, the Blitzboks star has begun to stake a real claim for consideration at Springbok level. Fellow Lions teammate Jaco Kriel may still boast the inside track to the Bok No 6 jersey in the absence of the injured Francois Louw and Marcell Coetzee, but don’t discount the case of Kwagga. Boasting an insatiable work rate, peerless pace and a fierce appetite for contesting at the breakdown, he could certainly be a handy impact player for the Boks.
It’s quite likely that Cloete and Smith are competing for one available spot to add to the Boks’ options at openside flank, but the Kings star has been the biggest surprise package on the Super Rugby scene this season. The 26-year-old has been immense on defence, while using his strength and low centre of gravity to great effect at the breakdown. A call-up for Cloete would be well-deserved, but is largely dependent on whether Coetzee sees value in selecting a specialist fetcher.
The 23-year-old has been the find of the Super Rugby season for the Sharks. The talented midfielder has featured in every game for the Durban-based side this season, and has been their most consistent performer in a new-look backline. Am’s strengths lie on attack, but he is a courageous defender, and at a time when the Boks desperately require options at outside centre, he could be an exciting inclusion.
This is a selection that is likely to be opposed by many, but at a time when the Boks’ options are so limited at scrumhalf (Faf de Klerk and Rudy Paige have seriously battled for form this season), Cronjé would not be a bad option. It seems as if Cobus Reinach may be just ahead in terms of the race for the No 9 jersey, but Cronjé is a reliable halfback who boasts a solid kicking and passing game. Considering that the Boks will simply want to win at all costs, those are qualities that will be valued.
It’s a guessing game as to who is likely to wear the Bok No 15 jersey this June. Johan Goosen is no longer in the reckoning, while it remains to be seen whether Coetee will turn back to the overseas-based Willie le Roux. There have also been few locally-based fullbacks who have performed with any real consistency this season … Well, except for Marais. Against all odds, the 28-year-old has been the standout performer for the Stormers this season, and offers a beneficial big left boot. His stats also tell a story: 119 carries, 795m made, 25 defenders beaten, six try assists, 25 offloads and 40 open-play kicks.
Thomas du Toit
The 22-year-old loosehead prop has come of age this season. Besides boasting a massive physical frame (he is 1.87m tall and 135kg), he has scrummed solidly and offered impact on defence and as a ball-carrier. It speaks volumes that at times this season he has outperformed 87-Test cap stalwart Beast Mtawarira, and with the experiment of shifting Du Toit to tighthead now seeming to have been done away with, he has emerged as a viable Bok contender.
Photo: Anne Laing/HM Images