Jacques Nienaber sprung a surprise on everyone on Saturday when he named a 43 man squad for the Incoming Tour against Wales in July. The announcement was originally to be made when the last SA team dropped out of the United Rugby Championship. Pleasingly so, the SA sides are the only ones still in the tournament with one game left to play and maybe, like the rest of us, Jacques just couldn't wait to see who had made the cut.
Look a 43 man squad is pretty large and 20 of those players will be curtailed to seats in the stands when game day rolls around. The one advantage of such a large squad however, is that the management team will spend a prolonged amount of time with these players, exposing them to the environment, testing out their fitness and skillsets, whilst making up their minds about the players capabilities.
At face value the two big omissions from the team sheet are two World Cup winners in the form of Thor and Frans. Now there is no need to panic here, Frans has been undergoing treatment for a hamstring strain he suffered against the Griquas in the Currie Cup and will likely get a look in on his return to fitness. Duane is also carrying a knee injury and likely to undergo the knife soon to clear the problem up. We know what we have in both players and there is no reason to rush them into urgent action against the Welsh.
For me the concerns I am alluding to remain at flyhalf mostly, with some concern for outside center too. At Flyhalf we have stuck with what we know. Handre Pollard and Elton Jantjies have been the two generals of the Bok backline since Rassie & Jacques arrived and it seems like nothing is going to change there. Fine, they are the men in charge and they believe they are the players who can deliver. There is a big what if though, and that is, what if one of them is injured, or banned, or becomes unavailable for any number of reasons?
Should we find ourselves in a position now or at the World Cup next year where we are down a 10 and now need to call up a rookie, with absolutely no test experience, that will be the managements fault. They have missed the opportunity to provide opportunity to players who are knocking on the door. These players should be blooded during the Wales series so that we know what we have going forward.
I can see absolutely no valid reason for the exclusion of Manie Libbok from the Bok squad. He has played in every single game of the Stormers URC campaign and he is clearly doing something right as they are now hosting a home final in Cape Town this weekend. It is also worth mentioning that he is the URC's top points scorer. Instead of his inclusion though, the management has added an injured Johan Goosen to the mix. Goosen hasn't touched a rugby ball in 2022 and yet gets a look in, all the while the management preaches about form being the main criteria.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that there are 5 scrumhalves in the squad if you count the injured Reinach who is rehabbing with the side. Why on earth do we need so many 9's when we have so few 10's? I just can't seem to grasp what the plan is here in such a crucial channel. Maybe the Boks know that if push comes to shove they can bring back the sniper that is Morne Steyn, but this is a small comfort when much could be done in the interim.
The All Blacks found out in 2011 just how deeply one might have to dig into their flyhalf stocks as they called on their 5th ranked 10, Stephen Donald to help them out in the deep end. The difference between the Boks of now and the All Blacks of 2011 is a simple one, Donald had 25 test caps to his name and Libbok has none. A sad case and one can only hope it doesn't come back to bite us.