JOHANNESBURG - There’s a new leader and a bunch of new players, too. But there are also some seasoned campaigners and a few fringe players who have plenty to prove against France in the next few weeks.
Here rugby writer Jacques van der Westhuyzen highlights the Springbok men who need to show in the next three Tests that they have a future in the green and gold.
The veteran prop has been part of the Boks for several seasons now and while he still holds down a starting spot at the Sharks, and even captained them at one stage, one’s got to wonder how much he’s got left in the tank at Test level. The French will certainly provide the answer. Mtawarira needs a big series to stave off the challenges of several young props like Ox Nche, Thomas du Toit, Lizo Gqoboka, Trevor Nyakane and Jacques van Rooyen.Lood de Jager
Is he a No 4 or No 5 lock, will he really push Eben Etzebeth at No 4 and is he better than Pieter-Steph du Toit and Franco Smith at No 5? There are plenty of questions around the towering 2015 SA Player of the Year, who just hasn’t hit those lofty heights since joining the Bulls. De Jager will be desperate for a proper Test run, but it’s unlikely he’ll play all three matches, meaning when he does get a go he’ll have to make it count.
He was once touted as a potential future Bok captain - and he may still be that - but then he’s going to have to raise his game to the next level and show he is cut out for Test rugby. He’s been a regular for the Boks in recent seasons and had his moments, but is unfortunately in that loose-forward bracket where several players are shining brightly and pushing hard for selection. He will be lucky if he gets a start in the coming weeks.
There was a time when Oosthuizen was considered the next big thing in South African rugby, let alone among the front-rankers. Unfortunately he’s been shifted back and forth between loosehead and tighthead, that he’s never really become a specialist in either position. It’s one thing scrumming well at Super Rugby level and quite another doing the job in Test-match rugby and he’ll be under the spotlight. That is, if he gets a chance.
Damian de Allende
The big, powerful centre has already been ruled out of the first Test because of injury - something that is plaguing him more and more often these days. It’s a great pity, because when he’s at his best De Allende is a force to be reckoned with, a real powerhouse, with pace and some pretty good hands, too. But he’s yet to step up in Test-match rugby, and with some quality centres pushing hard he’ll hope to get a chance later in the series.
There will be many who’ll feel the Bulls No 9 is the luckiest man to be in the Bok squad. Paige simply didn’t do enough in Super Rugby to warrant a call-up. He’s a nifty operator, always eager and hungry for action, but his lack of good form has prevented him from playing regularly, for the Bulls and Boks. He’s got a lot to prove, if he gets game time.
The big No 8 is back in the Bok fold after missing out last season, but injury will prevent him from turning out in the first Test this weekend. Called back from Toulon to bolster the pack and provide some leadership and experience, Vermeulen will have to be happy with a place on the side of the scrum or on the bench. He can still add plenty of fire and power to the Boks, but will his age, injuries and the fact that he’s based overseas count against him?
Steyn has been in and out of the Bok squad so many times over the years, it’s impossible to know how many times he’s been called up? What is known though is that he’s an experienced player who can don the No 10, 12, 13 and 15 jerseys without a worry, and he’ll give everything he’s got to the team, but is he committed to a future with the Boks and is he the kind of player the Boks want going forward. Many will argue there are better, more attack-minded centres to pick.
The jury is certainly out about whether Kitshoff is as powerful as he has been made out to be. He left SA shores for a contract in France, but then was lured back to this country with a promise of getting a national contract. Kitshoff is still a rookie at Test level, is hardly a regular starter and is still to prove himself the best for the front row. Like Oosthuizen and Mtawarira, Kitshoff needs to justify all the hype, but it won’t happen if he doesn’t play.
Arguably the most talked about, watched and dissected player in the Bok set-up. Jantjies has never been coach Allister Coetzee’s favourite flyhalf and the Lions man didn’t change that perception with some iffy performances in the green and gold last year, but then one’s got to wonder whether he was given the freedom to “play it like he sees it”? Jantjies is star quality - he’s proved that - but the next three Tests will determine if he has a future as Coetzee’s No 10.