Quintin van Jaarsveld highlights five Springbok players who’ll be in the spotlight in the Rugby Championship clash against Australia in Sydney on Saturday.
“Sous” returns to the run-on side after doing bench duty in the last four Tests and it comes in the retread role of blindside flank in place of Pieter-Steph du Toit, whose pursuit to return to his best has been complicated further by injury.
South Africa are blessed with an embarrassment of riches in the second and back rows and, yet, Mostert’s motor for a skyscraper has seen him form part of the Springbok loose trio more so than the engine room in the last two seasons.
His size, physically and mobility is presumably why he got the nod ahead of Kwagga Smith, who’ll come on as a super-sub like he did so splendidly last weekend, at which point Mostert could shift into the second row, where his lineout prowess presumably saw him selected ahead of Elrigh Louw.
Given those other options, many will keep a keen eye on Mostert to see if he delivers.
With Handre Pollard and Elton Jantjies both picking up injuries in the Adelaide disaster, Willemse has been handed the keys. The mercurial 24-year-old has either started at fullback or been an insurance policy on the bench called upon to provide cover at inside centre and flyhalf.
In what’ll be his 22nd Test, Willemse will don the green and gold No 10 jersey for the first time and carry the pressure that comes with the role. He’s always had all the skills to be a Test titan, he’s just lacked seasoning. After playing a starring role in the Stormers’ United Rugby Championship triumph, the Willemse that’s returned to Test rugby this year is more man than boy. He’s more calculated, consistent and clutch.
Even though he’s played little rugby at flyhalf this season, the aforementioned qualities he’s shown suggest he’s mentally ready to drive the Springboks. It won’t be a picnic in terms of tactical and goal-kicking, but he has the talent to pull it off and will bring a much-needed element of unpredictability to the blunt backline.
Prodigies are rare breeds blessed with extraordinary talent and poise. Since the turn of the millennium, only 14 such phenoms have made their Springbok debuts before their 21st birthdays. Among them are names such as Schalk Burger, Jaque Fourie, JP Pietersen and Pat Lambie, along with three core members of the current crop in Eben Etzebeth, Pollard and the man in the saddle on Saturday, Willemse.
Of that list of 14, only two were under the age of 20 when they earned the honour, Chiliboy Ralepelle, who was 19 years and 349 days old when he came off the bench in the 45-26 loss to the All Blacks in Pretoria in August 2006, and Frans Steyn, who started on the left wing in the 32-15 defeat to Ireland in Dublin three months later aged 19 years and 181 days. Moodie will become the third when he runs on in the No 14 jersey on Saturday at 19 years and 297 days old.
That history lesson highlights how highly the Springbok coaches think of Moodie, who showed maturity far beyond his years in his rookie season of senior rugby to help the Bulls reach the URC final. His game is remarkably polished for such a young gun, he’s fundamentally sound and his decision-making is excellent.
Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White believes his blue-chipper will go on to become a Springbok centurion. That journey starts in Sydney, where Moodie will want to make a good first impression under difficult circumstances.
Willie le Roux
Less than a year ago, the majority of Springbok supporters called for an out-of-sorts Le Roux to make way for the next generation. Instead, the selectors this season gave the veteran a new role as a member of the “Bomb Squad” and he’s been money every time out, bringing a wealth of experience, vision and enterprise to the mix.
Now back in the No 15 jersey he owned for much of the last decade, the 33-year-old has to flip the switch to starter mode again and with many expectant fans currently having their knives out for struggling stalwarts like Du Toit, Duane Vermeulen, Elton Jantjies and Frans Steyn, Le Roux’s promotion puts him at risk of joining their list of “undesirables” if he has an off day.
In contrast to the above-mentioned list of veterans who find themselves in the dog box with a certain section of the fan base, Fourie’s one of the darlings of South African rugby at the moment.
The tough-as-nails, fight-for-every-inch pit bull’s fairytale 2021-22 season, in which he helped the Stormers to URC glory and became the oldest Springbok debutant in history at 35 years and 287 days in the second Test against Wales, has transformed him into rugby’s “Rocky.”
And, with his second-half showing off the bench in that 13-12 defeat to the Welsh in Bloemfontein being his only appearance on the Test stage thus far, supporters have been shouting from the rooftops for Fourie to get another opportunity in the green and gold.
A vastly experienced hooker turned prolific fetcher, he offers the Springboks the best of both worlds. If he gets enough game time, don’t be surprised if he proves he should’ve been preferred to Joseph Dweba sooner.
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Canan Moodie, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Franco Mostert, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff.Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Kwagga Smith, 20 Duane Vermeulen, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Warrick Gelant.