The Harlequins’ superb 2020-21 Premiership title win shows that the Springboks won’t lack depth when it comes to the latter stages of the Test season, writes DYLAN JACK.
Of course, everybody’s focus is on the Lions series and whether the Springboks can manage to draw level after losing the first Test.
However, in reality the series forms a small part of the Boks’ Test calendar for 2021, with the Rugby Championship and end of year tour to Europe still to come. The Springboks are scheduled to play 14 Test matches in the space of five months.
This means that depth will be all-important this year. It’s one of the big reasons behind Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber deciding to combine the Springbok and SA ‘A’ teams into an expanded squad of 47 players, allowing the newcomers to adjust to the Boks’ systems and strategies.
Thinking logically, it would be unreasonable to expect first-choice players like Cheslin Kolbe, Damian de Allende and Faf de Klerk to start in every one of these Tests, given that they already have a heavy workload with their respective clubs.
This is where Harlequins comes in. The London-based club, who last won the Premiership title in 2012, defied the odds after finishing fourth by claiming the title for the first time in nine years. It was all capped off with an incredible final – one of the greatest this writer has ever seen – where they came from behind and then had to hold on to beat the Exeter Chiefs 40-38.
How does this help the Springboks?
Well, among the outstanding performers for Harlequins this season have been Andre Esterhuizen, Wilco Louw, Tyrone Green and captain Stephan Lewies, all of whom could be assets for the Boks this year. Three of those players – Esterhuizen, Louw and Green – were playing their first seasons in the Premiership, but have already taken their game to the next level.
Esterhuizen has shown this season that he is far more than just a ‘bash-it-up’ centre, demonstrating that he can draw in defenders and has the ball skills to release his teammates on the outside. His performance in the final was remarkable, given it was his first game in six weeks after completing a ban for a red card.
Having made all eight of his Springboks appearances under Erasmus, he is clearly someone the coaching staff trust and could be a vital player when De Allende needs a break.
Louw was unlucky to initally miss out on the squad for the Lions series, with the Springboks preferring to go with a couple of ‘swing’ prop options in Thomas du Toit and Coenie Oosthuizen. The 26- year-old, who has 22 Test caps to his name, has continued to grow as a scrummager in England, but has also taken a big step up in terms of his workrate, making 14 tackles in 58 minutes in the Premiership final.
Then you have Green. The 23-year-old back was highly rated at the Lions, but eyebrows were raised when Harlequins did not extend veteran Mike Brown’s contract before the England international was suspended. This meant Green had to take on the responsibility as the team’s starting fullback.
However, the South African shone in the playoffs, scoring twice in the extra-time semi-final win over Bristol and then he was on hand to provide the match-winning try assist against Exeter.
There is much debate as to who could be the successor to Springbok fullback incumbent Willie le Roux, with Aphelele Fassi, Warrick Gelant and even Yaw Penxe in the race, but Green has shown that even though he was not included in the 47-man squad, he should by no means be ruled out.
If the Springboks are to make 2021 successful by defending their Rugby Championship crown and winning in the United Kingdom, they will be relying on their depth.
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