The Springboks are still spoiled for choice in most departments several months after the World Cup, writes former Bok captain JEAN DE VILLIERS in the latest SA Rugby magazine.
We often speak about four-year cycles and how a World Cup marks the end. In the past, the tournament has signified the end of an era as a number of players retired from international rugby and opted to finish their careers abroad.
Over the past 12 months, however, we’ve witnessed a change in that pattern. Only three of the 33 players who featured for the Springboks at the 2019 World Cup have decided to move on. The majority of that squad will be available for South Africa in 2020 and in the lead-up to the 2021 series against the British & Irish Lions.
The Covid-19 crisis brought competitive sport to a halt in mid-March. Before that, we saw how hard the South Africans were pushing themselves in Vodacom Super Rugby and overseas competitions.
Some of the older players, like Duane Vermeulen and Frans Steyn, have expressed their desire to face the Lions in 2021. Meanwhile, there are a host of youngsters who didn’t play for the Boks last year, pushing for a spot in the wider squad.
South African rugby has come a long way. While it’s hard to ignore what’s happening in the world at present, and how it may impact on the game, the fact is that this country now has some quality in depth. Come the Test season, Bok coach Jacques Nienaber will be spoiled for choice.
Two years ago, we were wondering who would fill the void at scrumhalf. After Faf de Klerk made a lasting impression in 2018, we asked who deserved to travel to the 2019 World Cup as his understudies. Herschel Jantjies and Cobus Reinach answered that question with a string of explosive performances. Winning the World Cup would have done wonders for their confidence.
A team that claims to have strength in depth has at least three quality options in each position. Suddenly the Boks have that at scrumhalf, as all three of those players are capable of starting big Tests.
What’s great to see is other scrumhalves, like Embrose Papier and Louis Schreuder, performing in Super Rugby and pushing for a national recall. Sanele Nohamba is also coming through. When you have competition like that, you know you are in a good place.
Last year, there was also some concern about the midfield positions. I think it’s fair to say – based on what we saw in the Rugby Championship and World Cup – South Africa has two excellent midfield combinations.
Damian de Allende, Andre Esterhuizen and Frans Steyn are all strong options at No 12, while Lukhanyo Am and Jesse Kriel are world-class 13s. That said, there’s a big gap between those players and the next set of outside centres.
Our front-row, lock and loose-forward stocks are very healthy, and it’s been great to seen so many youngsters performing for their franchises in these positions. Curwin Bosch has improved a great deal since he’s been backed at flyhalf at the Sharks, and Vodacom Bulls No 10 Manie Libbok is another who may receive a national call-up before long.
There are a plenty of experienced options in the back three, and I’m sure that exciting youngsters like Aphelele Fassi will get a chance too.
We may see the game resuming with a domestic competition once the restrictions are lifted. That could create a ‘trial’ scenario where the local players receive a further opportunity to impress. It’s going to be very interesting to see how the national selectors go about picking their team later this season, as there are several choices in just about every position.
*This article first appeared in our June magazine, which is now on sale
Photo: Steve Haag Sports/Hollywoodbets