Selecting a preferred Springbok side

After the announcement of the 31-man Springbok Squad on Monday, it is clear that Rassie Erasmus’ chargers are filled with talent and depth. This makes it more challenging for the head of SA Rugby to select a first choice starting lineup heading into the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

While there are a number of positions that are fairly easy to predict, others will see a fight for selection to make their mark in Japan. Up front, players such as Malcolm Marx, Tendai Mtawarira, Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi and Duane Vermeulen are all likely to start in the majority of matches throughout the tournament. In fact, the only real question mark surrounds the tighthead birth.

Trevor Nyakane, Vinent Koch and Frans Malherbe will all be vying for that starting position, with Malherbe and Nyakane being the preferred starters in 2019. Nyakane is in the form of his life in 2019, being a dominant scrummager as well as a powerful ball carrier. On the other hand, Malherbe has had a decent 2019, improving his discipline at scrum time, and he seems to be putting in more work around the park. With that said, Nyakane should be the clear favourite to start in the no. 3 jersey for the Boks, with Malherbe likely to to cover on the bench.

The remainder of the front row is simple to predict, with Mtawarira looking like he did in 2009, and Marx remaining one of the best hookers in world rugby at the moment. Despite a few question marks surrounding his line out capabilities in the past, Marx has improved that aspect of his game in 2019, and looks even more well rounded than he did in 2018. As far as the bench cover for 1 and 2 are concerned, it can confidently be said that Steven Kitshoff and Bongi Mbonambi will be the the choice cover on the bench.

With only four locks in the 31-man squad, and with Etzebeth and Mostert settled in their starting roles in the squad, the real battle will be for the spot on the bench. While RG Snyman is currently in great form, and has made real impact whenever he has played for the Boks in 2019, Erasmus may opt for two loose forwards on the bench as he has done in the past. Should Erasmus opt for the more traditional bench setup, Snyman should beat out Lood de Jager for that spot, however an extra loose forward on the bench could see an exciting and dynamic bench setup.

A lot has been argued in the media and on social media about the loose forward setup. It is obvious that the captain of the Springboks, Siyamthanda Kolisi, will start in the no. 6 jersey. He should be backed up by the only other settled starters in the side, Du Toit and Vermeulen at 7 and 8 respectively. Again, it seems that the bench is the most hotly contested position for players to fight for in the case of loose forward.

While Francois Louw has a wealth of experience for the Springboks, it cannot be denied that Kwagga Smith has performed exceptionally over a number of seasons, and his dynamic speed, agility and ball-stealing ability will make his impact in the final 20 minutes of a crucial game invaluable. It is also important to note that Smith started his first test match this year against the then-World No.1 All Blacks, and was also trusted to start in the Rugby Championship decider against Argentina. Both Louw and Smith can cover all three backrow positions, and with Du Toit’s ability to play lock, it would not be surprising to see Smith and Louw on the bench more than once in Japan.

Erasmus’ backline has been largely predictable in the past, with a definite preferred seven players, each with a possible backup in the 31-man squad. The same starting line up that drew to the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship should line up opposite the Haka again in the opening World Cup encounter, with the exception of a possible position change on the wing. That means that the first choice backline would probably read as follows: Faf de Klerk, Handre Pollard, Cheslin Kolbe (moved over from right wing), Damian de Allende, Lukanyo Am, Sibusiso Nkosi and Willie le Roux.

The three bench positions left for the backline will differ depending on the opposition, however one place is certain; Herschel Jantjies will be De Klerk’s backup on the bench. While Frans Steyn has looked like a completely different player since his return to the Green and Gold, his undeniable skill, calmness and ability to structure a backline should see him take the second bench position for the majority of the tournament. Steyn has the added benefit of being a versatile player, able to act as pivot on attack, and cover deep in defence. He can play flyhalf as well as centre, and if he puts a bit more work into his fitness, can also cover fullback if needed.

The final place on the preferred 23-man team will be highly debated, as Elton Jantjies, Jesse Kriel and Makazole Mapimpi would all be ideal to bring on in the final 20 minutes of a match. However, the it is difficult to get away from the exciting prospect of having Pollard, Jantjies and Steyn on the field at the same time. For this reason alone, Jantjies should be brought onto the bench for a few matches throughout the tournament.

Erasmus will definitely be excited by the depth in the side that he is taking to Japan, and there is little doubt that the 31 men representing South Africa in the World Cup will all be excellent choices to start. However, the object here was to select the most probable preferred starting team, and as such, this could be the the most likely team to line up against the Haka on 21 September:

  1. Tendai Mtawarira
  2. Malcolm Marx
  3. Trevor Nyakane
  4. Eben Etzebeth
  5. Franco Mostert
  6. Siya Kolisi (Captain)
  7. Pieter-Steph du Toit
  8. Duane Vermeulen
  9. Faf de Klerk
  10. Handre Pollard
  11. Cheslin Kolbe
  12. Damian de Allende
  13. Lukhanyo Am
  14. Sibusiso Nkosi
  15. Willie le Roux
  16. Bongi Mbonambi
  17. Steven Kitshoff
  18. Frans Malherbe
  19. Francois Louw
  20. Kwagga Smith
  21. Herschel Jantjies
  22. Elton Jantjies
  23. Frans Steyn

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