A brutal back pick threatens Springbok coach

The patch for Springbok squad positions will come to a head in the coming weeks, with several prominent loose forwards missing the cut for the series against Wales, writes Jon Cardinelli.

Last Sunday, Bok coach Jacques Nienaber named a 17-man training squad for the series against Wales. This group consisted of established Bok players who had completed their club duties in Japan, as well as players of national interest from the Sharks – who had been beaten out of the United Rugby Championship by the Bulls in the recent quarter-finals.

More players will be highlighted in the camp as they become available in the coming weeks. Bulls and Stormers players of national interest will join the Bulls and Stormers Boxing after their respective URC campaigns ended. The Boks based at clubs in England, Ireland and France will join the team as soon as the European domestic leagues are over.

Nienaber is expected to nominate an extended squad of 30 to 40 players ahead of the first round of the 2022 Test Season. The group will prepare for the home games against Wales as well as for the latter Rugby Championship Tests.

If all goes according to plan, Nienaber will launch a more experimental side in the third Test against Wales, and possibly in the home match against Argentina in September.

Pampered for choice

That said, Nienaber may be forced to skip a clutch of form players and possibly one or two veterans. As things stand, the Boks are spoiled for choice in the loose front section, with the current back row completed by a bunch of World Cup winners and Lion killers.

In addition, there are several local players knocking – loudly and insistently – on the Bok door.

Make no mistake, it’s a good headache for a coach. And yet, when one considers the loose front group as a whole, and who might be missing, one does not envy the national voters before the final squad announcement.

Siya KolisiPieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen will start the 2022 season as the current back row, and Nienaber has good reason to keep all three in the lead to next year. World Cup.

Du Toit has recovered from a serious injury failure, and is desperate for playing time after missing all but three of the 2021 Boxing Tests.

Kolisi was the Boks ‘outstanding player last season, and his lackluster performances – especially for Sharks’ dull side – shouldn’t be held against him until the new season.

Vermeulen has been huge for the Irish side Ulster in recent months. The number eight was the Boks’ defensive captain for most of the decade, and should continue to play this role for the next two seasons.

The Bok coaches will not hesitate to pick those three players when they are fit and available. But deciding on alternatives, however, can prove more difficult.

Nienaber has confirmed that he will select five specialist loose forwards in his squad for the 2023 World Cup.

Francois Louw and Kwagga Smith were part of the contingent that traveled to the 2019 World Cup in Japan. Louw later retired, while Smith remained part of the group.

Smith has produced several influential performances throughout the 2021 season, and is likely to be preserved for the time being.

Jasper Wiese, Marco van Staden and Dan du Preez – all of whom represent English clubs – played supporting roles for the Boxing last year. It will be interesting to see if these players are retained, or if they leave room for local players to compete for a chance.

Bulls ’Elrigh Louw has already joined the Boxing for a lineup camp this season. Evan Roos of the Stormers and Marcell Coetzee of the Bulls, however, were overlooked despite their gigantic displays.

Social media debates have been raging for the past few weeks, and fans are calling for Roos and Coetzee to be elevated to South Africa’s early XV. Bok’s coaches probably won’t make such drastic changes, but there may be an argument for Louw, Roos or Coetzee to move ahead of Wiese, Van Staden, Du Preez and even Smith in the sharp order.

Can these marginal players cover all three loose forward positions of the bench, or in the context of a World Cup squad?

Coetzee played all three positions for the Boxing, and may have traveled to Japan in 2019 if not for an inappropriate ankle injury. Louw and Roos, of course, still have everything to prove on the Test stage.

The composition of the previous group as a whole is also something to consider.

Franco Mostert – which was used exclusively as a lock back in 2019 – has evolved into a good faithful loose forward option.

Announcing the 17-man training group recently, SA Rugby confirmed that Mostert had been included as a “useful forward”. This indicates that Mostert will continue to offer Boks ’options on lock and blind side. It is possible that Mostert will travel to France next year as “the sixth loose forward” in the squad.

Nienaber and Erasmus will be determined to develop alternatives in the meantime. Rynhardt Elstadt was listed as a useful forward for the Boxing in 2019 and 2021, although he served primarily as a side. Last year, Jean-Luc du Preez – who played his entire Testrugbe in the back row – represented the South African A-side at a lock before he succumbed to injury.

Bulls sophomore Ruan Nortje recently attended Bok lineup camp. Perhaps the talented youngster will serve as a service forward at some stage during the Test Season.

I have listed 10 specialist loose forwards as well as four utilities that are on the national radar. There are many more star players at South Africa’s disposal if you consider the performances of Phepsi Buthulezi (Sharks), Vincent Tshituka (Lions) and Juarno Augustus (Northampton Saints) in recent months.

There will be a scream when the Bok squad ends in the next few weeks – because of the omissions rather than the inclusions.

Nienaber’s picks will reveal a lot about what Bok’s coaches are looking for in a loose forward ahead of the 2022 Test Season, and ahead of the major World Cup.

READ MORE: Chris Smith the hero as Bulls pip Sharks in Pretoria

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