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Selecting Bok Team For Rugby Championship Opener

Quintin van Jaarsveld puts his selector cap on and picks the Springbok side for the opening Test of the Rugby Championship against Australia.

Springbok Side Rugby Championship

Quintin van Jaarsveld puts his selector cap on and picks the Springbok side for the opening Test of the Rugby Championship against Australia in Pretoria next weekend.

As in 2019, the last time South Africa won the Southern Hemisphere showpiece, the Springbok brains trust will employ a split-squad system in this year’s truncated tournament with a view towards the World Cup.

Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber will send 15 first-choice players to New Zealand ahead of the possible title decider against the All Blacks at Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland on 15 July, which is bookended by an opening assignment against Australia at Loftus Versfeld on 8 July and a second home fixture against Argentina at Ellis Park on 29 July.

As a result, they’ll rely on other squad members to get off to a winning start against Eddie Jones’ men. According to Sunday newspaper Rapport, it won’t be a full-on ‘B’ team, with some veterans expected to provide valuable experience. With that, and injuries to Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth and Jaden Hendrikse in mind, let’s look at the team the Springboks could put out.

Rapport has revealed that Pieter-Steph du Toit, Duane Vermeulen, Lukhanyo Am and Willie le Roux are set to form the experienced core of the side and are thus included. 

Excellent individually and immense as a unit, the all-Sharks front row of Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Thomas du Toit would give the team a settled and reliable base that matches up well against any in world rugby. Nche’s a barnstorming ball carrier, Mbonambi a trusted lineout thrower and maul expert and Du Toit a workhorse with leadership experience at franchise level. 

In the second row, bolter Jean Kleyn is in line to make his Springbok debut and with RG Snyman reportedly set to be among the group heading to New Zealand, Marvin Orie will likely be the former Irish international’s lock partner. 

While a surprise inclusion in the 42-man squad, Kleyn fits the mould of a Springbok second-rower and flexed his muscles in Munster’s victorious United Rugby Championship campaign. 

Orie, meanwhile, started in the 2022 season-ending 27-13 win over England at Twickenham and deserves to hold onto the No 5 jersey for the Wallabies Test after a strong URC season in which he ran the Stormers’ lineout like clockwork and led them in tackle numbers. 

Deon Fourie, Du Toit and Vermeulen would make up a balanced back row. Evergreen Fourie had another fantastic season for the Stormers, producing jackals like a breeder. That fetching prowess will be huge against an Australian team who’ll want to play a fast-paced game.

Du Toit is a battle-hardened Test campaigner whose reputation as a former World Player of the Year and versatility will reportedly see him start in the blindside flanker role.

Vermeulen’s an absolute legend with 65 Test caps to his name and has captained the Springboks twice, both times in the triumphant 2019 Rugby Championship campaign. Highly respected, the decorated veteran is the perfect choice to lead the team into battle.  

It’s risky, as I wrote in a previous piece, but Grant Williams and Manie Libbok have earned the honour to make their starting debuts in the green and gold following their exploits in the URC. 

Andre Esterhuizen and Am could man the midfield. After three years in the Test wilderness, Esterhuizen returned to the Springbok fold last season and made three appearances but he’s yet to lock down his place in the World Cup squad. Am’s a shoo-in but can do with game time and will be the leader of the backline.

Makazole Mapimpi, Canan Moodie and Le Roux could complete the run-on side. Mapimpi was usurped by Kurt-Lee Arendse last season and needs to show the coaches why he should be first-choice, while Moodie’s in desperate need of game time. With Damian Willemse carrying an injury niggle, 83-Test veteran Le Roux will man the last line of defence.

Moving to the bench, Trevor Nyakane, Joseph Dweba and Vincent Koch will be hungry to get stuck in and won’t let the team down. Jean-Luc du Preez offers back-up at lock and flank while Evan Roos could be unleashed in the final quarter. 

Cobus Reinach is an experienced, well-rounded safety net in case of emergency, the returning Elton Jantjies could act as specialist flyhalf cover, although, one would hope Libbok fires and gets a full 80 minutes of Test rugby under his belt, and Jesse Kriel can cover centre and wing.

Springboks: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Canan Moodie, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Grant Williams, 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain), 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche.

Replacements: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Jean-Luc du Preez, 20 Evan Roos, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Jesse Kriel. 

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 SARugby.com and senior staff writer at Rugby365.com, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

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