Rassie makes big Buthelezi, Dixon calls as Grobbelaar, Wessels ‘impress’

‘Jan-Hendrik (Wessels) is equally efficient at prop and hooker, which increases our front-row options,’ said Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus. BackpagePix

‘Jan-Hendrik (Wessels) is equally efficient at prop and hooker, which increases our front-row options,’ said Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus. BackpagePix

Published Jun 26, 2024


Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus has largely gone for experience, and brought in a few in-form youngsters for the two-Test series against Ireland and the one-off clash against Portugal.

But there can be a number of top-class talents who can consider themselves unlucky not to be part of the 39-man squad named yesterday for the Irish Tests in Pretoria (July 6) and Durban (July 13), as well as the Portuguese encounter in Bloemfontein on July 20.

Erasmus made some intriguing calls among the forwards in particular.

He is missing some serious fire-power in the shape of the injured Steven Kitshoff, Jean Kleyn, Lood de Jager and Cameron Hanekom, who are not available, along with backs such as Jaden Hendrikse, Henco van Wyk, Canan Moodie and Damian Willemse.

Eben Etzebeth, Salmaan Moerat, Franco Mostert and RG Snyman are the four locks in the squad, but Bulls captain Ruan Nortjé had an excellent season in the United Rugby Championship, and is arguably the best line-out jumper playing in South Africa.

The versatility of Ben-Jason Dixon and Pieter-Steph du Toit – who can both operate at No 4 and No 5 – probably made it difficult for Nortjé to make the cut.

But the major talking point of this squad will be the loose forwards. Dixon – who made his debut against Wales last weekend – and Sharks No 8 Phepsi Buthelezi are the newcomers who join Du Toit, Siya Kolisi, Evan Roos, Kwagga Smith and Marco van Staden in the group.

Surprisingly, Jasper Wiese – who served the first match of a six-match suspension against Wales – was picked despite being unavailable for the Irish and Portugal Tests, as well as the first two games of the Rugby Championship against the Wallabies in Australia.

With Hanekom out with a hamstring injury, a more versatile loose forward such as Elrigh Louw may have been a better choice. Louw has been in outstanding form for the Bulls, and is a powerful blindside flank who can cover No 8 as well.

Dixon is a hard-working No 7 who tackles for days, but perhaps doesn’t offer that same hard edge that Louw would bring to the Bok set-up.

Buthelezi improved in the latter stages of the Sharks’ season, especially in their run to the Challenge Cup title, but hasn’t been consistent enough to warrant selection ahead of those in the 14-man standby group announced yesterday, including Louw, Mpilo Gumede and Jean-Luc du Preez.

Two unexpected selections were Bulls hooker duo Johan Grobbelaar and Jan-Hendrik Wessels. While Grobbelaar was again a constant presence in the Pretoria side’s run to the URC final, Wessels hardly featured.

Wessels does offer a unique hooker-prop skill set that could be handy at the 2027 Rugby World Cup in Australia, but what about specialists such as Joseph Dweba, André-Hugo Venter, Neethling Fouché, Wilco Louw and Ntuthuko Mchunu?

Springbok Squad

Forwards: Phepsi Buthelezi, Ben-Jason Dixon, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Thomas du Toit, Eben Etzebeth. Johan Grobbelaar, Vincent Koch, Siya Kolisi, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi, Salmaan Moerat, Franco Mostert, Ox Nche, Trevor Nyakane, Evan Roos, Kwagga Smith, RG Snyman, Gerhard Steenekamp, Marco van Staden, Jan-Hendrik Wessels, Jasper Wiese; Backs: Lukhanyo Am, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Damian de Allende, Faf de Klerk, André Esterhuizen, Aphelele Fassi, Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, Cheslin Kolbe, Jesse Kriel, Willie le Roux, Manie Libbok, Makazole Mapimpi, Handré Pollard, Cobus Reinach, Morné van den Berg, Edwill van der Merwe, Grant Williams.

Players on standby – Forwards: Jean-Luc du Preez, Joseph Dweba, Neethling Fouché, Mpilo Gumede, Elrigh Louw, Wilco Louw, Ntuthuko Mchunu, Ruben van Heerden, André-Hugo Venter; Backs: Suleiman Hartzenberg, Jordan Hendrikse, Ethan Hooker, Quan Horn, Siya Masuku.

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