The 2021 season kicked off for the Springboks with more questions than answers. Were they still world beaters? Could they hold out against the British & Irish Lions? What was coming for the Boks in their 100th test against the mighty All Blacks? Was Jacques Nienaber up to the task of head coach? Well we now know, the Boks beat the B&I Lions 2 - 1, staving off the best the Northern Hemisphere had to offer. They put Los Pumas to the sword, before coming undone against the Wallabies and then played two extremely close games against the All Blacks with one win and one loss to show for their efforts.
The perfect year? I think not, but there is no denying this is still a quality side and they have put out solid performances in less than ideal circumstances. So where to next? Fortunately the UK removed South Africa from the red list on 11 October as prior to this the Autumn Internationals were in doubt. This means the Boks are able to travel free from quarantine and able to return to somewhat of a normal environment for the tour.
The Lions series is behind us and so is the Rugby Championship so now its time to look at the future and building towards defending the World Cup in France in 2023. In order to achieve this, the wider and younger squad members need game exposure.
For me, Aphelele Fassi is atop this list. Willie Le Roux had a shocker in the last game against the All Blacks, and whilst it may not have been his last game in the Green & Gold, its time to bring in some fresh blood at the back. Fassi got a couple of chances out on the wing against Georgia and Argentina but has yet to don his preferred 15 jersey. Wales may be a baptism of fire for him as they favor the high ball, but he has to start somewhere. I would also like to see Cheslin given a shot here, possibly against England so that we can see a back 3 consisting of Nkosi, Kolbe and Mapimpi.
Up front Joseph Dweba deserves a chance to build on his impressive cameo's so far, his size and power can only strengthen an already powerful Springbok pack. The return of RG Snyman may make it even more difficult, but Marvin Orie also requires more game time in the engine room if we are to further build the depth in this crucial department.
Franco Mostert is an incredible athlete and player, but playing him at flank was a temporary measure that did not pay dividends. Hopefully this experiment has been put to bed, with Pieter-Steph du Toit as the exception to the rule. Kwagga Smith had possibly his best game in the last test against the All Blacks and him as well as Marco van Staden are due some solid game time too. The du Preez brothers are also due another look in, as Jasper Wiese has primarily operated as the back up to Duane Vermeulen.
The two players who can possibly feel the most hard done by though, is Malcolm Marx and Elton Jantjies. I fully support the rotation between Marx and Mbonambi, but we strayed from a horses for courses approach and Marx has been mostly utilized off the bench and I'd like to see a role reversal for the tour. Whilst Elton has sat patiently behind Pollard for game time, and when it finally came, he grabbed it with both hands. Elton deserves a chance to lead the Springbok backline and should be rotated in during the tour.
Lastly, in the centers I'd like to see Wandisile Simelane given some game time, along with Frans Steyn, Jessie Kriel and a possible recall for either of Serfontein, Esterhuizen or Cornal Hendriks. Whilst Johan Goosen is a player I was also eager to see, he is unlikely to feature again this year after suffering a knee injury this past weekend playing for the Blue Bulls in the United Rugby Championship.
The Northern Hemisphere sides are not to be underestimated and Wales poses the biggest threat in my opinion, but there comes a point where one has to experiment and try out new combinations even if only to build competition within the squad. No one knows what injuries lay ahead, and player rotation is the best way to ensure depth is there to cover any gaps that may appear.