Boks make ‘small tweaks’ as Lions, Sharks stars primed for Wales

UTILITY back Suleiman Hartzenberg has been a consistent performer at wing for the Stormers over the last few seasons. PHANDO JIKELO Independent Newspapers

UTILITY back Suleiman Hartzenberg has been a consistent performer at wing for the Stormers over the last few seasons. PHANDO JIKELO Independent Newspapers

Published May 26, 2024


Ashfak Mohamed

SPRINGBOK coach Rassie Erasmus admitted this week that it was “very tricky” to prepare a squad for the first Test of the year against Wales due to the South African teams pushing for play-off spots in the United Rugby Championship.

But while the Bulls the favourites to go all the way to the final, things are much tougher for the Stormers, while the Lions will need a miracle on the final day of league action next weekend to sneak in through the back door.

Only the Bulls will have a home quarter-final, while the Stormers can only finish as high as fifth and will face either Munster, the Bulls, Leinster or Glasgow away.

They will probably be favourites against Glasgow, even in Scotland, but will be regarded as outsiders if they have to play in Limerick, Pretoria or Dublin.

So, at this stage, Erasmus can probably bank on having the Stormers players available for the Wales Test in London on June 22, as the URC quarter-finals will be played on the weekend of June 7/8.

“Obviously, for us, it is very tricky when it comes to managing things for that first Test match against Wales because some of our teams will be involved in the URC still. Most of the players were here from South Africa, except the Sharks players,” Erasmus said at the conclusion of the Springbok alignment camp in Cape Town this week.

“This was a real in-person camp where we could really dig into the rugby stuff, the on-field stuff – how we attack, how we defend, line-outs, mauling, scrums.

“Also, the players needed to get used to the new coaches, Tony (Brown) and Jerry (Flannery), and some other things we are going to try in the season.

“So, pretty happy. Some youngsters got flooded with a lot of info and certainly some of the older guys do understand the small tweaks we want to make in our game.

“We will be looking at players in the URC games and the Sharks in the (European Challenge Cup) final this weekend, and some Japanese-based players who are available for us.

“From the players, coaches and medical side, we are pretty happy with the camp.”

The Sharks stars who were part of Friday night’s cup final triumph over Gloucester in London will definitely be able to feature in the Wales Test, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all of them should play.

First-choice Boks such as Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Eben Etzebeth should be kept in cotton wool for the Ireland Tests on July 6 and 13, as the Wales clash can be a window into the future for the Boks and an opportunity to grow depth.

Sharks centre Lukhanyo Am, who missed the cup final with shoulder and rib issues, should be fit by June 22 and could provide much-needed experience in the Bok backline against Wales, with Jesse Kriel the incumbent starting No 13.

Sharks fullback Aphelele Fassi probably did enough in the London final to edge out both Warrick Gelant and Quan Horn for a starting berth against Wales, but there can be a Stormers and Lions presence in the shape of the in-form Suleiman Hartzenberg and Edwill van der Merwe on the wings.

With Damian Willemse ruled out with injury and overseas-based Damian de Allende and André Esterhuizen unavailable, it would be worth giving Stormers youngster Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu a run at inside centre.

Feinberg-Mngomezulu is a flyhalf for the future, but has featured at No 12 for the Stormers and has an excellent array of skills on attack and in his kicking game.

Sharks halfbacks Siya Masuku and Grant Williams would be ideal after stunning performances in the London final, and there are a number of options in the forwards that Erasmus can make use of.

Bulls powerhouse Mpilo Gumede was invited to the Bok alignment camp in Cape Town this week, and having been out of the mix for the Pretoria side recently, he should be made available to the Boks, even if the Bulls make the URC final, as Stormers star Hacjivah Dayimani is out of favour, and Evan Roos is a possible starter against Ireland.

Lions openside flank JC Pretorius has been terrific in the fetcher role in recent weeks and is someone who can perform the Deon Fourie/Kwagga Smith role on attack as well.

The one big question mark is at No 5 lock and perhaps Erasmus will try to get Japan-based second-rower Lood de Jager released to call the line-outs.

Possible Springbok team for Wales Test

15 Aphelele Fassi 14 Suleiman Hartzenberg 13 Lukhanyo Am 12 Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu 11 Edwill van der Merwe 10 Siya Masuku 9 Grant Williams 8 Mpilo Gumede 7 Ben-Jason Dixon 6 JC Pretorius 5 Lood de Jager 4 Salmaan Moerat 3 Asenathi Ntlabakanye 2 Joseph Dweba 1 Ntuthuko Mchunu

Bench: 16 Jan-Hendrik Wessels 17 Sti Sithole 18 Neethling Fouché 19 Ruben van Heerden 20 Vincent Tshituka 21 Sanele Nohamba 22 Jordan Hendrikse 23 Warrick Gelant

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