Bok bench could be overloaded with forwards for Loftus Test

Rassie Erasmus has selected a powerful Springbok matchday 23 for the first Test against Ireland this weekend. | BackpagePix

Rassie Erasmus has selected a powerful Springbok matchday 23 for the first Test against Ireland this weekend. | BackpagePix

Published Jul 3, 2024


Leighton Koopman

The Springboks could still field a 7-1 replacement bench on Saturday in the first Test of the two-match series against Ireland.

Head coach Rassie Erasmus has not ruled out going for a forwards-dominated bench with niggles in the squad forcing him to keep his options open ahead of the highly anticipated Loftus Versfeld duel.

Yesterday, Erasmus selected his strongest available team for the first clash in Pretoria (5.05 pm kick-off), with 20 of the matchday squad being 2023 World Cup winners, including the entire starting 15. They boast a collective 966 caps between them – the second most experienced 23-man Bok squad named after the 2023 World Cup final one.

It’s a massive privilege to be able to do that, according to Erasmus, considering Steven Kitshoff, Jean Kleyn, Canan Moodie and Damian Willemse are some of the players still out with injuries. There was also no place for flyhalf Manie Libbok and influential midfielder Lukhanyo Am.

“There is a possibility for a 7-1 split, but I don’t want to elaborate on that at this point,” Erasmus said at his team announcement while keeping some of his cards close to his chest.

“There are some niggles, we might still change on Thursday, but we will give it time until then.”

His side is geared up to take on a motivated Irish side he feels probably has a score to settle with the Boks. Even though they are unbeaten against South Africa since 2016, the Springboks have won back-to-back world titles since then and have beaten a British Lions side with Irish representatives.

“They are number two in the world, they have beaten us last time, but we don’t see ourselves as the underdogs. I don’t think they see themselves as the underdogs and you will see two teams on Saturday really desperate to perform for their countries. From their side, they probably have unfinished business to try and get to number one (in the world).

“But we don’t talk like that (about getting revenge). We try to stay in our reality and that is that we are playing a side that has beaten us. All the games were close and they deserved it.

“But I would rather win two World Cups and a British & Irish Lions Series, and take three losses (against Ireland) with it. We didn’t pick this team to try and lose.”

With heaps of experience going for them, Erasmus selected rookies Grant Williams and Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu as the utility backs on a bench that includes two fresh locks in RG Snyman and Salmaan Moerat. Kwagga Smith, normally one of the go-to Bomb Squad members, is promoted to the starting No 8 jersey and forms a loose trio with the returning skipper Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit, who captained the side against Wales.

“Sacha brings something to the party because there won’t be a lot of changes to the side when we go 6-2, and that is actually where Manie missed out.

“If a 12 goes down, Sacha can go straight in there because he has played there for the Stormers. The same with the flyhalf and fullback positions. With Manie, he’s not that comfortable at 12, and then Handre would have to play 12 and everybody from 10 would have to move one position out if Cheslin (Kolbe) goes to 15. Sacha makes more sense.”

Erasmus joked that former Bok coach Jacques Nienaber phones him every night with some inside info on Ireland, but on a more serious note, the Springbok coach said he is not too worried about any of those things.

He said Saturday’s match will be a battle for the entire 80 minutes, but they know what to expect.

“Twenty of our guys played last time against the Irish when we lost, so I don't have to remind them of anything.”

Springbok starting XV: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Kwagga Smith, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (capt), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche; Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Gerhard Steenekamp, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 RG Snyman, 21 Marco van Staden, 22 Grant Williams, 23 Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu.