By now the South African Rugby public is chomping at the bit to see the Springboks take the pitch again. It has been some 18 months since the sound of Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika has rung out in the stadium before the boys in green and gold kick off. The 02nd of November 2019 seems like a lifetime ago, this was the last time Siya Kolisi led the team out to face England in the Rugby World Cup final. There is a light at the end of the tunnel however, as the Springboks are set to return to test rugby imminently against Georgia.
18 months is a long time in rugby, a time where new players would have been blooded, new combinations tested and most importantly, the continuance of momentum built up during the course of, and build up to the World Cup in Japan. This hasn’t been the case however, with this in mind, just how similar will the new Bok squad look when they assemble under the tutelage of new head coach Jacques Nienaber.
From the squad that was assembled for the World Cup, Francois Louw, Beast Mtawarira and Schalk Brits have hung up their boots. The rest however remain available, barring injury, which at the moment places RG Snyman and Lood de Jager in doubt. Whilst it would be easy to follow the “tried and tested” approach with the British and Irish Lions tour looming, one mustn’t lose sight of the need to develop ahead of the 2023 World Cup which is also approaching, much in the same time frame now as Rassie had.
The two preparation tests scheduled against Georgia provide the perfect opportunity to experiment, if this was an ordinary test season. However, in light of the fact that the team hasn’t assembled in many months, they are likely to see a full strength team take the field in at least one, if not both of the tests. The need to get combinations to gel and adequate test exposure before facing the Lions is likely to outweigh the need to grow squad depth in the short term.
Up and coming players will likely have to wait for the Rugby Championship or end of year tour for their chance to taste test rugby. The alignment camps cast a wide net, in order to bring players up to speed with the wider planning aspects of the Springbok’s game plan, but the likelihood of many players cracking the match day 23 is slim at this stage. Players may just have to settle with playing supportive rolls until the team builds up a head of steam again.
Beating the British and Irish Lions will make a massive statement in the face of the critics who profess the Springboks should not be ranked number 1 and should be prioritized at all costs at this stage. Winning the series would ease the pressure in the environment which would then be conducive to blooding new talent.
Fans should expect to see essentially the same team that took to the field in 2019, re-assembled for duty against Georgia and the Lions with a handful of new additions like Morne Steyn, Andre Esterhuizen, the du Preez twins and Ox Nche possibly getting a chance too.