The last full year cycle before the Springboks mount their World Cup title defense has arrived and there is a lot of rugby to be played. 2021 saw the team return to the international arena after a year long absence and this year they will need to build at a steady speed ahead of the show piece in France next year. There was little focus on building depth last year, but one may suspect that this year that will all change, with youngsters getting their shot and some senior members used sparingly.
At the end of a long season, the Springboks had been missing some personnel and the likes of Cheslin Kolbe, Frans Malherbe, Pieter-Steph du Toit and RG Snyman will have a huge impact on the squad. All of these players will form a large part of the plan for France 2023 and Du Toit in particular with his athleticism will bolster an already monstrous pack of forwards.
Outside of the established core, youngsters like Aphelele 'weekend special' Fassi, Evan Roos. Elrigh Louw, Salmaan Moerat and Jayden Hendricks will likely also get a look in after a full domestic season has unfolded. Whilst wider squad members such as the Du Preez twins, Damian Willemse, Joseph Dweba and Marvin Orie will also require game time in order to establish a footing in the squad.
Aphelele Fassi was probably the omission from the match day 23 that bothered fans the most, especially in light of Willie Le Roux visibly struggling on a number of occasions. However the young fullback may have been given some homework on his positional play at the back from the management team before he is given his shot in the last line. He was exclusively deployed on the wing, recognizing his immense talent, but he will need to grow his game if he is to usurp the incumbent. A full season alongside the likes of Sbu Nkosi, Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am will provide him with all he needs in that regard.
Damian Willemse is another, he is a World Cup winner but he has been mostly consigned to a bench role for the Boks. Its a trade of between him and the forever ageless Frans Steyn for who assumes the coveted 'bomb squad' role on any given day. He is admittedly not as versatile as Steyn, but then again who is. Willemse is seemingly most comfortable at 12 as his size lends to him fulfilling a similar ball carrying role as that of De Allende, but he is able to fill in at flyhalf and fullback too, having player there frequently for the Stormers. 2022 will be his chance to solidify his role in the squad and he will likely work alongside Steyn in growing his ability to impact that game i the crucial last stanza.
The beauty of a new rugby season also brings with it the fact that there are players who may make the cut that are simply not on any ones radar at this point. Unearthing a firecracker talent like Kolbe or Herschel Jantjies or finding the next massive lock is always just around the corner. With the URC and Currie Cup taking place in tandem, rest assured there will be plenty of opportunities for players to state their case in the hopes of making that plane to France in 2023.