JOHANNESBURG – Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus has picked nine overseas-based players in his current planning group ahead of the international season, which culminates with the World Cup in Japan from September.
Some of these men have been in the Bok picture for some time, while others will hope to impress the national rugby boss over the next few weeks as they seek to make the final 31-man squad.
Here rugby writer Jacques van der Westhuyzen runs the rule over the foreign legion
It’s been four years since the 28-year-old former Sharks loose forward played for the Boks, but his form for Ulster has given him a World Cup lifeline. Coetzee missed the 2015 World Cup because of injury - something that has regularly stalled his career - but he could well be a surprise pick in the final squad. Comfortable in all three back-row positions, Coetzee is a quality ball-poacher, he is strong in the carry and he has got a work-rate second to none.
There’s stiff competition at loose forward though.
Faf de Klerk
The pocket rocket scrumhalf returned to the Bok fold last year after missing out in 2017 and showed he is South Africa’s number one No 9. He has grown immensely as a player since joining Sale Sharks in England three years ago and will be a key man at the World Cup.
The 27-year-old has strong attacking attributes and also puts his body on the line when defending, and it will be hoped that the inclusion in the squad of Cobus Reinach will push him to even higher performance levels.
The former Stormers man, who has run out for Toulouse in France since 2017, is the one real big surprise in the current planning group. A real “toughie”, the 29-year-old who is 1.98m tall is comfortable at lock and at flank, so he is very much in the same mould as Pieter-Steph du Toit, who right now is the Bok first-choice blindside flank, but is equally happy at lock.
There are several other flanks also looking to fill a spot in the side so, again, it’s going to be tough to force his way in.
The specialist tighthead prop, who has been a regular in the colours of Saracens since 2016, is regarded as one of the best scrummagers in England, and he will be hoping to add to his 13 Test caps in the coming year. At 29 he has learnt plenty about the fine arts of scrumming and he could certainly add value to the Boks in Japan.
He will have to show his worth though before the final squad is named because there are a number of quality props doing the rounds and waiting for their chance.
He’s been called “the man with the jet shoes” and the 25-year-old has certainly grabbed his chance at Test level. He starred on almost every occasion in his six appearances last year and continued that form for Toulouse in France this year, helping the team win the Top 14. He has got versatility, speed, a step, guts and determination ... everything every coach wants.
And forget his size (74kg and 1.72m tall); he has proven he is good enough, at any level and against any opposition.
Willie le Roux
Like De Klerk, a player who for whatever reason missed out during 2017, but returned to star for the Boks under Erasmus last year. He will go to Japan as the first-choice fullback and have some inside knowledge of conditions and customs in that country, having previously played for the Canon Eagles in Tokyo. Le Roux also recently ran out for Wasps in England, but will turn out for Toyota Verblitz, also in Japan, after the World Cup.
A quality player, he is also comfortable on the wing and at flyhalf.
It wasn’t that long ago that people were still asking, Franco who? But, in the last four years the 28-year-old has become one of SA’s top locks and that without the bulk and length of several of his competitors and teammates. He has played his rugby for Gloucester in England since the end of last year.
With 28 caps behind his name and plenty of Super Rugby experience, Mostert’s work-rate, tackle completion and lineout work make him a must for the squad.
For a player with so much game-breaking potential, speed and class it is almost inconceivable that the 29-year-old hasn’t earned 50 caps for the Boks. Always a steady operator during his time with the Sharks, he has taken his game to a new level while playing for Northampton and should see his first Bok action in four years in the next few weeks and months.
He would be a great addition to the Bok squad, but it would mean one of Ivan van Zyl or Embrose Papier missing out.
Where does one start with the veteran 32-year-old who currently plays for Montpellier? He has been a Bok star and World Cup winner, but also an uninterested observer, who has been in and out of the selection mix more than anyone else since he made his debut at 19 in 2006. He can play flyhalf, centre, wing and fullback, he has got a boot bigger than most and he is strong and fast.
The two burning questions are: Does he still have the desire to play for the Boks and is he still good enough? Let’s see.@jacq_west