• Rassie still rates his tried and trusted World Cup-winning Boks

    Rassie still rates his tried and trusted World Cup-winning Boks

    The 2019 World Cup-winning Boks will start the biggest matches of the World Cup in France later this year – and it is a testament to just how well they have been managed nationally since thumping England 32-12 in the final in Japan four years ago, writes Mark Keohane.

    Erasmus, in his guise of National Director of Rugby, has final sign-off on the team selections and he and Bok coach Jacques Nienaber are aligned in their thinking of what constitutes the strongest match-day 23. The substitute’s bench will be tweaked as per the make-up of the opposition.

    Only two of Saturday’s Bok starting XV backs will start against Ireland at the World Cup if all squad players are fit and available. And as many as five of the pack could change for South Africa’s biggest Pool game at the World Cup.

    This International season is all about the World Cup. The Rugby Championship of three matches, two at home and one against the All Blacks in Auckland on 15th July, is secondary to the World Cup defence and more a means to an end than the end.

    The additional World Cup matches against Argentina (away), Wales (Cardiff) and the All Blacks (Twickenham) will also be a mix and match before the best run-on XV is unleashed on Ireland. And that run on XV will look remarkably similar to that which won the Boks the World Cup.

    Willie Le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Makazole Mapimpi, Lukhanyo Am, Damian De Allende, Handre Pollard and Faf de Klerk will be the run-on backline. Only Le Roux and Am start on Saturday against the Wallabies at Loftus in Pretoria.

    Frans Malherbe will be the tighthead, and Erasmus and Nienaber will follow the success recipe of Japan 2019 in introducing loosened prop Steven Kitshoff and the world’s most impactful hooker Malcolm Marx as finishers.

    Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager will be the starting lock duo and a fit Siya Kolisi will start among the loose-forwards, as will Pieter-Steph du Toit. The only mover and shaker in the past two seasons has been Jaspier Wiese at No 8 and he looks to have overtaken veteran No 8 Duane Vermeulen in the pecking order.

    Vermeulen leads the Boks against the Wallabies on Saturday, but all the talk has been about a role change for Vermeulen if he is to make it to the World Cup.

    These six Test preceding the World Cup are all about the second cabs off the rank, per position, and the make-up of the most potent finishing options.

    Frans Steyn is unlikely to play another World Cup because of a knee injury and Damian Willemse is the obvious like for like replacement. RG Snyman, Franco Mostert and Kwagga Smith provide huge impact in finishing and the most intriguing battle will be at No 9, as to who slots in behind De Klerk.

    Cobus Reinarch gets a starting opportunity against the Wallabies and Grant Williams is scrum half bench cover.

    The player who must make an impact is inside centre André Esterhuizen. If he can’t impose himself on match flows over the next two months, he may miss out to the versatility of Willemse and Pollard, with both capable of providing 12-cover to De Allende.

    Erasmus and Nienaber have consistently said the core group of players they identified in 2018 were potential World Cup winners in France, 2023. The fact that this group gelled so magnificently in 2019 to win the title, was a bonus. The thinking has always been that the 2019 group was young enough and old enough to peak at the 2023 World Cup.

    There has been a sprinkling of new faces in Marco van Staden, Evan Roos, Manie Libbok, Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie, but they are players whose performances have given comfort that the next best is very capable of providing cover to those currently considered the best.

    Don’t read too much into the starting selections in the pre-World Cup games: the Bok coaches know exactly who will start and finish against Ireland at the World Cup; what they want comfort in is the quality of the back-up squad players.

    They can only get this comfort by playing them regularly in the build-up to the World Cup.



    Article written by

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