Most of the World Cup-winning Springboks will have reached their prime by the time the British & Irish Lions tour South Africa, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The current Bok side has an opportunity to be more than 2019 Rugby Championship and World Cup champions. Director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has made this point on more than one occasion.
South African rugby, says Erasmus, must capitalise on the recent successes as it enters an important four-year period.
One of the things that Erasmus got right in 2018 and 2019 was the identification and development of a group of players that should add value up to and including the 2023 World Cup. As good as the Boks were in 2019, there’s reason to believe that a more experienced side will be even stronger in 2021 and 2023.
Three senior players in Beast Mtawarira, Francois Louw and Schalk Brits retired in the wake of the recent World Cup. The other 30 members of that squad should be available for the run-up to the Lions series.
Frans Steyn would add value in what would be his second crack at the composite side. Duane Vermeulen showed no signs of slowing down at the recent tournament in Japan. There’s reason to believe that the powerful No 8 will be a factor for the national side in 2021, even at the age of 34.
Most of the other players will be entering the prime of their respective careers. Members of the leadership core – such as Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk and Elton Jantjies – will be 30 or younger when the Lions tour commences in mid-2021.
RG Snyman will be 26, Herschel Jantjies 25 and Damian Willemse – who looks set to push Pollard and Jantjies hard for the No 10 jersey – only 23.
Erasmus spread the net wide over the course of the 2018 and 2019 seasons. We’re likely to see those who didn’t make the World Cup squad cut – such as Marcell Coetzee, Lizo Gqoboka, Andre Esterhuizen, Rynhardt Elstadt and Scarra Ntubeni to name a few – getting more game time in the next four-year cycle.
What’s also important to note is that some of the players that started in the 2019 World Cup final – Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi, De Klerk and Bongi Mbonambi – weren’t even on the Test radar prior to the 2016 season.
We’re bound to see a few rookies rising through the South African ranks and staking a serious claim for Bok selection. By 2021, there may be one or two new players in the starting mix.
The ‘bomb squad’ was a hit at the recent World Cup and Erasmus’ gamble to back six forwards on the bench paid off handsomely. Will the next Bok coach persist with that 6-2 split if Steyn – or indeed a similar player who can cover flyhalf, wing, centre and fullback – is unavailable?
This is a question that the selectors will have ample time to ponder over the next two years. One would hope that they strive to develop an alternative to Steyn in that role so that the Boks will at the very least have the option when the Lions finally come to town.
AGES OF 2019 WORLD CUP FINAL SQUAD AT START OF 2021 LIONS SERIES:
15 Willie le Roux (31)
14 Cheslin Kolbe (27)
13 Lukhanyo Am (26)
12 Damian de Allende (29)
11 Makazole Mapimpi (30)
10 Handre Pollard (27)
9 Faf de Klerk (29)
8 Duane Vermeulen (34)
7 Pieter-Steph du Toit (28)
6 Siya Kolisi (30, c)
5 Lood de Jager (27)
4 Eben Etzebeth (29)
3 Frans Malherbe (30)
2 Bongi Mbonambi (30)
1 Steven Kitshoff (29)
16 Malcolm Marx (26)
17 Thomas du Toit (26)*
18 Vincent Koch (31)
19 RG Snyman (26)
20 Franco Mostert (29)
21 Kwagga Smith (27)*
22 Herschel Jantjies (25)
23 Frans Steyn (34)
*Beast Mtawarira, Francois Louw and Schalk Brits have retired from Test rugby. Loosehead prop Thomas du Toit and flank Kwagga Smith were among the 2019 World Cup squad members that didn’t feature in the final against England.
Photo: Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)