Rassie upbeat as new-look Boks eye Irish challenge

Bongi Mbonambi was perhaps lucky to escape sanction after clashing heads with Gareth Thomas of Wales during their Test match this past weekend. | EPA

Bongi Mbonambi was perhaps lucky to escape sanction after clashing heads with Gareth Thomas of Wales during their Test match this past weekend. | EPA

Published Jun 24, 2024


Leighton Koopman

The Springboks know it will take some time for the new players and coaches to find each other in the system, but Saturday’s convincing win over Wales at Twickenham was a welcome confidence boost ahead of a gruelling Test season.

It was a second successive win at the same neutral ground as the world champions ran in five tries to defeat the Welsh 41-13 in an entertaining clash in London that showed some cracks here and there.

Overall, Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus was pleased with the performance and the base they laid for the incoming Test series against Ireland starting in two weeks.

The Boks and the Irish will clash in Pretoria (July 6) and Durban (July 13) in a highly anticipated repeat of a thrilling World Cup group stage encounter. It was one the Irish won, so the Springboks have a record to set straight on home soil.

Edwill van der Merwe takes a moment after scoring on debut against Wales. | AFP

Several players put their hand up with a strong performance against the Red Dragons, but Erasmus does not see it as a selection headache for them but rather as something that will strengthen the squad.

“It’s a nice situation to be in, those guys coming in and performing, it’s not a selection headache,” Erasmus said, of the debutants and fringe players performing in the match. “We can only be as honest as we can be as coaches and selectors and tell the players why they are making the squad or not.

“Some guys were unlucky not to get their opportunity (against Wales), just because we could not throw in 17 or 18 new players like we did in the past. We now have one extra year to prepare for the 2027 World Cup and this game gave us a chance to blend those players (on Saturday).”

On the game itself, Erasmus acknowledged that it was a bit of a stop-start affair, but overall they were satisfied with the performance. Debutants Jordan Hendrikse and Edwill van der Merwe, alongside Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu and Ben-Jason Dixon, who joined the match off the bench, had a good first Test.

Aphelele Fassi was solid under the high ball in the fullback position. | AFP

Van der Merwe was the standout with some brilliant defensive plays, and a brilliant winger try that saw him collect the Player of the Match award.

Errors crept in too, but it was to be expected in the first international game of the year. The newbies will be pleased with their performances though. Erasmus added that returning fullback Aphelele Fassi acquitted himself well at the back despite the unfortunate yellow card he received.

Fassi was excellent under the high ball and he put in some strong tackles, but would’ve loved more space to run on the attack. Overall he had a satisfying game. So too did Evan Roos, who is a candidate for the number eight jersey against Ireland with Jasper Wiese still suspended. Roos had some strong carries, worked tirelessly on defence, and showed he could take gaps as he did with a couple of bulldozing runs that put the Boks into favourable attacking positions.

“We have new coaches and had a few players making their debuts, so there were areas of the game that were not as good as we would have liked it to be, but we realise it will take time for things to come together nicely.

“We tried a few things, yes, but we wanted a solid pack of forwards that know each other. It wasn’t perfect, and there were a lot of stupid errors and things that didn’t click, but overall we achieved our goal.

“This was beneficial in getting game time to guys like Malcolm (Marx) and Kwagga (Smith) having not played for nine and seven months respectively … the Japanese-based players whose season stopped at a certain time. We needed quality opposition, travelling and playing away from home to be under real pressure (ahead of Ireland), and this is what this game did to us at times.”