After a tough 2021 campaign, this year presents the Springboks with the chance to address depth concerns, but which position needs the most urgent attention – with the 2023 Rugby World Cup on the horizon?
The Springboks played 13 Tests last year but a majority of those were must-win, meaning that the coaching staff did not have too much room to wiggle in terms of giving younger players an opportunity to show what they have got.
Outside back Aphelele Fassi, scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse, lock Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, hooker Joseph Dweba and No 8 Jasper Wiese all made their Test debuts this year, while loosehead prop Ox Nche added to his solitary Test cap earned in 2018.
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Looking ahead to 2022, SA Rugby is reportedly in negotiations to schedule several matches for the South Africa A team, including against a New Zealand XV during the Rugby Championship. This could allow for greater opportunities for younger players in the squad and those who perform in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship.
There are several positions that would need to be looked at.
This season highlighted the need to blood a backup to Willie le Roux at fullback, even though veteran Frans Steyn was the favoured alternative.
Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am played the majority of matches as the centre partnership, while Steyn and Jesse Kriel also played together.
Handre Pollard and Elton Jantjies rotated at flyhalf, but a third-choice option in the position is a current conundrum.
While Faf de Klerk had injury issues during 2021, that meant more opportunities for Cobus Reinach and Herschel Jantjies. The latter did struggle during the end-of-year tour of the United Kingdom and there is not much experienced depth beyond him.
The Springboks still have excellent depth at lock, with Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert and Lood de Jager all enjoying a sensational 2021 season. However, RG Snyman’s ongoing injury issues mean that a fourth option in the position would also need to be looked at.
Bongi Mbonambi and Malcolm Marx are the two first-choice hookers, while Dweba was brought into the squad this year and will be hoping for more chances during 2022.