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Five Bok Bolters for the Lions Series

We highlight five players not part of the 2019 WC winning Springbok squad who could front the B & I Lions in the Green and Gold come July.

Springboks v British Lions

Quintin van Jaarsveld highlights five players who weren’t part of the 2019 World Cup-winning Springbok squad who could front the British & Irish Lions in the Green and Gold come July.

Akker van der Merwe

His brother Duhan is one of the biggest breakout stars in recent memory, starring for Scotland in his maiden Six Nations to throw his name into the Lions mix, but don’t forget about Akker’s game-breaking abilities.

Schalk Brits’ retirement after the World Cup opened the third hooker berth behind Bongi Mbonambi and Malcolm Marx and Van der Merwe’s recent form for the Sale Sharks – including a two-try Man of the Match performance against Scarlets – puts him in prime position to fill that slot. The dynamic “Angry Warthog” is always in the thick of the action, using his low centre of gravity and powerful legs to gain ground with ball in hand and uproot bigger ball carriers on defence.

More importantly, he has fantastic fundamentals. Compared to Joseph Dweba and Scarra Ntubeni, likely his closest competitors, the 29-year-old’s also the best-suited to slot into the Springbok squad at this point in time. Having played three Tests and made a handful of appearances for the Barbarians, he has more international experience than 30-year-old Ntubeni, whereas the uncapped 25-year-old Dweba should be seen as the future and not thrust straight into the lions’ den.

Marvin Orie

The engine room, where the Springboks were supremely dominant in the Land of the Rising Sun, is currently clogged through injury, with RG Snyman and Lood de Jager in a race against time to be fit for the series.

The uncertainly surrounding the two wounded warriors leaves director of rugby Rassie Erasmus and coach Jacques Nienaber having to explore all options as possible supporting acts for Eben Etzebeth Franco Mostert, and there are plenty! Interestingly, utility forwards are seen by most as the top contenders. Rynhardt Elstadt, Jacques du Plessis, Jasper and Cobus Wiese and Du Toit twins Jean-Luc and Dan are all dual-threats dominating the conversation.

Ironically, the country’s leading specialist lock is being treated as an afterthought. Orie, who recently made a surprise switch to the Stormers after several seasons at the Lions, is a lineout general of note, who would bring a level of assuredness to the set-piece that none of the utility forwards would.

He’s an intelligent player but doesn’t pack the physical punch of a typical Springbok forward, which has limited him to three Test appearances, and the selectors will once again have to weigh up skill against strength when it comes to the balance of the lock stocks.

Marcell Coetzee

Injury cruelly ruled Coetzee out of a second straight World Cup in 2019 but his extraordinary determination to come back from one serious setback to another and stellar form for Ulster could earn the loose forward the rarest of honours of facing the Lions.

He’s the perfect package – powerful, explosive, relentless and a jackal at the breakdown. An elite hybrid, his ability to not only cover but excel in all three positions of the back row is unrivalled. That versatility is invaluable and puts him ahead of specialists such as Marco van Staden and Sikhumbuzo Notshe in the pecking order in my mind.

Special qualities separate the great from the good and Coetzee falls squarely into the former category. The PRO14 Players’ Player of the Year award he snapped up earlier this month is the latest token of his greatness. Coetzee’s passion on the park is unmatched; he plays with an intensity born out of a deep appreciation that he’s still able to live his dream after a recurring knee injury threatened to end his career a few years ago.

He’s had to scratch and claw every inch of the way to re-establish himself as of the best back-rowers in the world and that hunger is what separates him from the rest. Couple that with his knowledge of many of Europe’s elite who’ll make up the touring party and experience as a 30-Test Springbok and it’s clear that the Bulls-bound 29-year-old would be a great addition to the squad.

Ruan Pienaar

When a special mission comes along, you turn to an experienced professional to get the job done. When that decorated veteran happens to be in vintage form, it makes all the more sense to rope him back in for one last assignment.

Pienaar’s been worth his weight in gold since returning to South Africa for a swansong stint at the Cheetahs. He masterfully steered the Bloemfontein team to Currie Cup glory in 2019 and once again showed his class and generalship when he returned from injury in the Preparation Series to guide them to victory over the Stormers and Sharks.

It’s his tactical nous, developed over nearly two decades of playing at the highest level both locally and abroad, and immense experience (88 Tests) that could see him unseat Herschel Jantjies as the third scrumhalf option for the series, with Faf de Klerk and Cobus Reinach set to retain their places at No.9 and No.21 respectively.

Having a member of the triumphant 2009 team in the mix would be invaluable to the squad as a whole, not just the younger scrumhalves. The same goes for Morne and Frans Steyn, both of whom should be in the squad.

Cornal Hendricks

Another veteran ageing like fine wine. A Springbok recall for the grand occasion that is a Lions series would be the perfect culmination of one of the greatest comeback stories in South African rugby history. The former Springbok wing’s remarkable reinvention at No.12 flies in the face of rugby’s conventional notions.

Hendricks’ is a transcendent tale of the triumph of the human spirit, of a man who overcame a life-threatening heart condition and climbed the ladder once more, from club level to playing a starring role in the Bulls’ 2020/21 domestic double, including producing Man of the Match performances in the Currie Cup semi-final and final.

Humble and hard-working, he was open to Jake White’s vision to feature him in midfield and has looked like a natural inside centre, running wonderful lines to penetrate defences and put himself firmly in the conversation for Lions series selection.

Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at and senior staff writer at, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

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