• Rampant URC star Roos misses out but his Bok chance will come

    Roos vs Wiese
    David Rogers/Getty Images

    Evan Roos’s exclusion aside, there isn’t much I’d change for the Springboks’ season-opener against Wales at Loftus Versfeld, writes Mark Keohane.

    Roos will play in the course of the three-Test series. Of that I am sure, but as I wrote in my Sunday Times rugby column Keo Uncut, the motivation to have him playing on Saturday is that he has terrorised the Welsh teams throughout the Vodacom United Rugby Championships and was the form loose-forward in the league.

    Roos was named the player of the league and also the player’s player off the league. The latter is the most coveted award.

    Understandably Jasper Wiese starts at No 8 and Elrigh Louw’s inclusion in the match-day 23 is deserved and provides the locals with cheer that they will at least have one player in action on Saturday.

    And there is a good reason that Wiese has been given the starting role at No 8.

    Roos’s URC season was massive. He was named the URC Player of the Season. He was also named the Next Generation Player of the Season, the Fans Player of the Season and the Players’ Player of the Season.

    Roos played in 18 of the Stormers’ 21 matches and averaged 79 minutes a game. His impact and consistent improvement ensured the national coaching leadership couldn’t ignore his claims to a national call-up.

    Wiese was as influential in winning Leicester the English Premiership title.

    Wiese, who played in eight Tests for the Springboks in 2021, was named the Player of the Final and one of Leicester’s stand-out players in a season that saw him start 16 of 19 Premiership matches and five of six Champions Cup matches.

    He averaged 67 minutes a game.

    Wiese was colossal in Leicester’s injury time Premiership final win against Saracens. He scored the decisive try and his strong run in injury time was the momentum-builder that set up Freddie Burns’s match-winning drop goal.

    Wiese’s abrasive style won over more Leicester and Springboks fans in 2021 than it did match officials and the one disconcerting aspect of his game was his recklessness in the tackle and an inconsistent tackle technique.

    His ball-carrying was powerful, he beat defenders, made line-breaks and was comfortably one of the best No 8s in Europe, but the penalties, yellow cards, red cards and suspensions were asking serious questions of whether he had the discipline for Test rugby.

    Wiese answered his critics in the most emphatic manner over the past six months and credited his Leicester coaches for their frank assessment of his style of play. He had the potential to be an asset, they said, but he was turning into a liability.

    He had to change his mindset, change his approach and add discipline and thought to every collision.

    The result was that Wiese, who received five yellow cards, two red cards and a two-match suspension in 2021, did not get a yellow card in Leicester’s final 17 matches of the season.

    His penalty count also reduced dramatically. In the 2020/21 season he conceded 23 penalties for Leicester. In the 2021/22 season this was reduced to just two penalties.

    Bok coach Jacques Nienaber is spoilt for choice among his forwards and one could comfortably pick a pack of forwards from within the extended group that wouldn’t takes a step back from the starting eight. You would even get many suggesting they could pick a stronger starting eight than those given the privilege of playing in South Africa in front of a capacity crowd for the first time since the Springboks won the World Cup in 2022.

    It seems almost impossible to believe that this is the world champions’ first home game in front of a crowd in three years.

    Bok coach Jacques Nienaber and National Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus have big insurance policies in their bench cover for the first Test and it will be interesting to see how the Japanese-based players cope with the demands of a Welsh physicality they would not have experienced throughout the season in Japan.

    Franco Mostert will have the hardest task to front at blindside flank, while Willie le Roux has been used sparingly in Japan because of the two-start restriction on overseas players. Japan-based Elton Jantjies, at flyhallf, hasn’t played a match for five months but has trained with the national squad for the past month.

    Handre Pollard, who arrived back from France on Tuesday, will be considered for the second Test.

    The potency of the two front rows has no equal, for depth, in international rugby. The same can’t be said of the No 10 situation, with Le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe and Damian Willemse backing up Jantjies in this particular Test.

    It is a risk, but Willemse, who starts at fullback, played all of his initial schools and professional rugby at No 10. He is also the back-up goal kicker.

    The Bok coaching leadership have rewarded loyalty as much as form and they have gone with what they jkniow, as opposed to what they don’t necessarily know for this Test. Hence, Mostert to replace the injured Pieter-Steph du Toit and Kwagga Smith to add experience to the match-day squad.



    Article written by

    Keo has written about South African and international rugby professionally for the last 25 years