Springbok fringe players, exciting rising stars, in-form aces, and a big bolter make up our South African rugby ‘A’ team for the end-of-year tour, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
A blockbuster year-end tour will see the Springboks play Ireland (5 November) and France (12 November), the top two teams in the world, as well as Italy (19 November) and England (26 November).
To build squad depth and give players as much game time as possible ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup in France, an SA ‘A’ team will face off against Munster (10 November) and the Bristol Bears (17 November).
Here’s the team we’ll put out for the two-midweek matches:
15: Kurt-Lee Arendse (Bulls)
A pint-sized point of difference on attack, the Test rookie scored a try in each of his two Springbok appearances this season. His elusiveness and predatory instinct make him a strike runner similar to Cheslin Kolbe, whose return from injury will bump Arendse to the ‘A’ ranks.
Should Arendse get a start against Italy, it would be good to see Aphelele Fassi back in the mix. A lanky ball player with x-factor in spades and blistering speed, Fassi’s been focusing on rounding out his game since falling out of favour after an underwhelming performance in his third Test against Wales in Bloemfontein in July. He looks to have a future in the green and gold and playing at the ‘A’ level is an ideal reintegration into the national squad.
14: Canan Moodie (Bulls)
Like his Bulls teammate, Moodie burst onto the Test scene this season, scoring a magical try against Australia on debut and earning two more caps, but with Kolbe back and the Springboks likely to stick with a 6-2 “Bomb Squad,” that means the 19-year-old will mainly feature for the ‘A’ team.
Like Arendse, if he adds to his Test tally against the Azzurri, why not bring in Madosh Tambwe? A fireball who helped blaze a trail to the inaugural URC final for the Bulls and has continued his hot streak at Bordeaux, Tambwe’s been one of the most improved players over the last two years. The Zaire-born flyer dispelled Jacques Nienaber’s claims earlier this year that he doesn’t have SA citizenship, so that shouldn’t be a roadblock.
13: Tyrone Green (Harlequins)
Outside centre is one of the few problem areas for the Springboks with the sensational Lukhanyo Am injured and Jesse Kriel failing to fire for the longest time. The current situation at franchise level doesn’t help with Wandisile Simelane, considered the future heir, playing at fullback and Ruhan Nel still recovering from injury. Rohan Janse van Rensburg is an inside centre playing at 13 for the Sharks due to Am’s injury but there’s not enough place for him and Andre Esterhuizen.
One of the great young talents lost to SA rugby in recent years, Green has starred for Quins since joining them from the Lions in 2020. He’s mostly operated at fullback while he’s equally adept on the wing, but he does have some experience in the midfield and with his express pace, fast feet, and creativity, the 24-year-old would be a bolter, sure, but a versatile base-coverer with grooming potential at outside centre. And, yes, he’s not the biggest but he’s never let his team down on defence.
12: Andre Esterhuizen (Herlequins)
Green’s Harlequins team mate made his overdue Springbok comeback this season after scooping the Gallagher Premiership Players’ Player of the Year award but a hand injury and bench duty acted as shackles. It’s high time the 1.93m, 113kg midfield monster is unleashed.
11: Sbu Nkosi (Bulls)
After a long, challenging, and frustrating road back from injury and illness, Nkosi was recalled to the Springbok squad ahead of the Rugby Championship finale against Argentina in Durban but missed out on a place in the match 23. Clearly, in the plans, a hit-out against Munster the week before he possibly earns his 17th Test cap against Italy would line up perfectly. With Lionel Zas yet to return from injury (at the time of writing), it’s unclear if he’ll get enough game time under his belt to wing it for the ‘A’ team while it’s clear the coaches aren’t going to recall the deserving and evergreen Cornal Hendricks.
10: Manie Libbok (Stormers)
With Handre Pollard picking up yet another injury during his Leicester Tigers debut at the weekend, we’d draft Johan Goosen straight into the Springbok match 23. Jordan Hendrikse is widely regarded as the future at flyhalf but the blue-chipper still needs to develop and at just 21, there’s no rush. Instead, Libbok’s name has been swirling in the Springbok conversation since he piloted the Stormers to URC glory and the coaches would be wise to give the 25-year-old a shot here.
9: Grant Williams (Sharks)
Morne van der Berg and Zak Burger have the makings of future Springboks but Williams has the inside track. Having been in the set-up and made his debut off the bench against Wales in Bloemfontein, he’s the logical choice. The 26-year-old’s a lightning rod who does everything at exceptional speed and accurately, which makes him both dangerous and dependable.
8: Evan Roos (Stormers)
The man belongs in the Springbok match 23. The coaches did him dirty to discard him after his debut against the Welsh in Bloemfontein and if he’s not at the very least in the ‘A’ side, it could cause a riot. The 22-year-old is explosiveness personified and a can’t-miss future superstar.
7: Elrigh Louw (Bulls)
Stubbornness is the only reason why we haven’t seen Roos and Louw let loose as a dynamic duo yet. This is the time to do it. No excuses. No talk about “road maps”. Just let two of the brightest stars South Africa’s seen in quite some time continue their rise and let them do it as a terrifying tandem on this tour.
6: Dean Fourie (Stormers)
Marcell Coetzee deserves to be in the main squad but for whatever reason, he’ll probably be omitted again. Fourie is one of the fringe players the coaches need more clarity on in the context of the national composition and if his late rise is anything to go by, the oldest-ever Springbok debutant will make the most of these two opportunities.
5: Ruan Nortje (Bulls)
There’s no legitimate reason for and explanation why Nortje hasn’t been blooded by the Springboks already this season. The next-generation lock is incapable of having a bad game and has hit one proverbial home run after the other for the better part of two years. Give the kid his due.
4: Salmaan Moerat (Stormers)
A former Junior Springbok who’s been part of the senior structures since last November, Moerat’s being groomed as a future pillar. His first two Springbok appearances were cameos off the bench in the season-opening clash against Wales and Rugby Championship opener against the All Blacks, so a starting berth will give him a chance to stake his claim for more Test minutes.
3: Thomas du Toit (Sharks)
Such is the unmatched front-row depth of the Springboks that a player of Du Toit’s calibre, who’s in the prime of his career no less, has had to be content with the crumbs left on the Test table in recent years. A consistently colossal figure with an otherworldly gas tank for a 138kg behemoth, his power, experience and leadership make his a strong candidate to captain the side.
2: Johan Grobbelaar (Bulls)
A no-brainer. Very unlucky to be omitted from the Springbok squad this season after earning a maiden call-up for the Rugby Championship last year, no emerging hooker has been more consistently clinical in the set pieces and added a more complete element across the park than Grobbelaar.
1: Ntuthuko Mchunu (Stormers)
Mchunu’s a special breed of athlete, a 117kg burgeoning juggernaut who could outsprint some inside centres and spent time in the Springbok camp at the start of the season. The midweek games are exactly for a player like him to show where he’s at at this stage of his development.