Springbok stars Cheslin Kolbe, Willie le Roux cleared for Ireland Tests

WILLIE le Roux missed the Bulls’ URC final against Glasgow with concussion, but is ready to feature for the Springboks against Ireland. Photo: AFP

WILLIE le Roux missed the Bulls’ URC final against Glasgow with concussion, but is ready to feature for the Springboks against Ireland. Photo: AFP

Published Jun 27, 2024


IT would seem that the Springbok team to face Ireland is taking shape nicely in Rassie Erasmus’ eyes.

Last Saturday, with Siya Kolisi – who Erasmus confirmed yesterday will resume the captaincy in next Saturday’s first Test at Loftus Versfeld – watching from the dug-out, the Boks comfortably beat Wales while exposing some new faces to the coalface of Test rugby.

They have also been strengthened by the inclusion of Bulls players who unfortunately lost to the Glasgow Warriors in the URC final last weekend, and can include veterans playing in England and France in their plans.

“Willie (le Roux) is cleared,” coach Erasmus declared yesterday in Pretoria from a short list of injury concerns.

“Cheslin (Kolbe) is cleared. Edwill (van der Merwe) and Makazole (Mapimpi), we will have to manage this week, but both stand a chance to be available against Ireland.

“Faf (de Klerk), we have to manage this week, and then the only other guy that won’t be available but who is training is Jasper (Wiese).”

The 39-man squad selected by Erasmus has nevertheless elicited some fierce discussion, which the former loose forward acknowledged when revealing his thought process behind his picks.

Said the Bok mentor: “I can understand that people are upset about (the absence of) Elrigh Louw, Jean-Luc (du Preez), Siya Masuku – there is a lot – Ruben (van Heerden), Wilco Louw… all of these boys.

“Hopefully things go well against Ireland, and they can maybe play against Portugal.”

Erasmus explained that his decisions were based on carefully collected information, evolving plans and looking ahead to defending the Webb Ellis Cup in Australia in three years’ time.

This long-term view perhaps explains the biggest question mark surrounding Erasmus’ squad – the introduction of Jan-Hendrik Wessels.

“We have no control over what the franchises do and where they play players,” he stated regarding Wessels’ selection.

“We have a Players of National Interest (Poni) programme which we contribute to. Wessels is one that we earmarked since 2013, when we started. He was always a loosehead.

“We had Joseph Dweba now in our system for four Test weeks. We now had André-Hugo Venter involved on a tour, on a match-day, on a warm-up, on an alignment camp, on a training week. He has got that experience.

“Grobbies (Johan Grobbelaar) was one of the stand-out hookers, and I don’t think anybody can argue that. The Bulls went the deepest in the (URC) competition, and his line-outs were good.

“The nice thing about Jan-Hendrik is that he can cover No 1 and No 2, which makes the selection easier, when we go to 2027...

“What we are trying to do is expose guys to our Springbok environment as much as possible,” Erasmus said, before reiterating the possibility that Portugal could see wholesale changes in the match-23, if all goes swimmingly against Ireland at Loftus Versfeld next Saturday and in Durban a week later.

Meanwhile, 15 seconds, perhaps slightly less, is all it took for Erasmus to seemingly dispel any further debate regarding who will captain the Boks against Ireland.

Ja, nee,” he said with a wry smile. “Siya will be captain, Siya will play No 6 flank, Siya has got no injury, Siya is not fat, and Siya is not transparent.”

That’s all it took for the Springbok captaincy debate to seemingly be put to bed by the Springbok coach.

Previously, there had been fierce discussion as to who would skipper the world champions in the next few weeks, with the mega-Test series against Ireland looming.

Eben Etzebeth and Bongi Mbonambi were among the front-runners, while Pieter-Steph du Toit captained the side for a second time against Wales at Twickenham last weekend.

Earlier this year, Erasmus explained that a robust debate would ensue regarding Kolisi’s future, arguing that a locally-based player might be preferred in the role.

Interest in the topic was arguably also compounded by criticism levelled at Kolisi by Racing 92 club owner Jacky Lorenzetti, who said that the 32-year-old two-time world champion had “gained weight, lost shape” and “was invisible” during the latter stages of the French Top 14 this month.

Erasmus, however, has no such qualms, and yesterday’s nonchalant, matter-of-fact statement regarding Kolisi will surely be a massive confidence boost to both player and squad.

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