Springboks have real quality for Wales Test this time compared to 2018

Kurt-Lee Arendse, seen here on Test debut against Wales in 2022, has become an integral part of the Springbok team since. Photo: BackpagePix

Kurt-Lee Arendse, seen here on Test debut against Wales in 2022, has become an integral part of the Springbok team since. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Mar 15, 2024

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Comment by Mike Greenaway

Rassie Erasmus’ first match of his second tenure as head coach will start exactly as it did in his first match in charge – with a June friendly against Wales at a neutral venue.

In 2018, Erasmus took a makeshift Springbok team to Washington to play (badly) against Wales, and six years later, the Boks play Wales in London.

Again it will be an experimental team, but there will be a big difference to 2018 – this time a Springbok B side will be packed with exciting new players, because South African rugby in 2024 is on a different planet to where it was after the unfortunate Allister Coetzee era.

To be fair to Coetzee, he was in a difficult position when he took over from Heyneke Meyer.

He did not have many of the luxuries that Erasmus insisted on when he took over the reins – most notably the access to overseas-based players.

Also, Meyer had taken an ageing Bok squad to the 2015 World Cup, and there had not been a significant transformation. Coetzee almost had to start from scratch, and the results were horrific.

The 2018 squad that went to Washington contained a number of players who would play one or two Tests before being discarded.

Erasmus looked at mostly fringe players for that game because his big names stayed at home to prepare for the imminent visit by Eddie Jones’ England.

To kickstart the memory, the Bok team that lost 22-20 to Wales had Curwin Bosch at fullback, Travis Ismaiel at right wing and Ivan van Zyl and Elton Jantjies were the halfbacks.

Dan du Preez and Oupa Mohoje were in a loose trio with Kwagga Smith; Pieter-Steph du Toit captained the side from the second row; he partnered with Jason Jenkins, while the hooker was Chiliboy Ralepelle.

I’m not casting aspersions on the quality of those players, but most of that starting XV was jettisoned by Erasmus.

In 2024, the squad that goes to Twickenham for the June 22 Wales game will mostly come from the players who were recently introduced to the new coaching staff at the alignment camp in Cape Town, because the match falls outside the international window.

Again, the big guns will return to the team for the incoming tour of Ireland, with the Tests scheduled for July 6 in Pretoria and July 13 in Durban.

But if you look at the quality of the players that were at the alignment camp, it is chalk and cheese compared to 2018.

That is how far South African rugby has come since 2018, with two World Cups in the bag and a series win over the British and Irish Lions.

We are seeing the value of Erasmus’ post-Covid-19 policy of “educated experimentation” to grow depth.

Another match against Wales comes to mind. In 2022, Erasmus made 14 changes to the side that started in the first Test against Wales, in Pretoria, for the second Test in Bloemfontein.

When the Boks lost the match, those selections were heavily criticised, but there were newcomers – Kurt-Lee Arendse, Deon Fourie, Grant Williams and Jaden Hendrikse – who would be World Cup winners just over a year later, while others were trialled and discarded.

It has helped Erasmus enormously in his quest to build depth that the Bulls and the Stormers have been so good in the United Rugby Championship over the past three years.

As Erasmus said earlier this week: “To stay cutting edge, you must keep trying things and giving opportunities.

“We've got wonderful players coming through. Some of the guys at the alignment camp, I hadn’t met in person before. I’d seen them on TV.”

It would be no surprise if some of those youngsters – the likes of Cameron Hanekom, Mpilo Gumede, André-Hugo Venter, Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, Sanele Nohamba and Ruan Venter – are stars of the 2027 World Cup.

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