Eyes on Erasmus to decide on Bok captaincy

EBEN Etzebeth and Lukhanyo Am are among the viable options to take the Springbok captaincy after Siya Kolisi. | BackpagePix

EBEN Etzebeth and Lukhanyo Am are among the viable options to take the Springbok captaincy after Siya Kolisi. | BackpagePix

Published Apr 28, 2024


THE Springboks will continue to rely on a core leadership group going into the 2024 test season, but there are already a handful of strong contenders to lead the world champions in the first test of the season.

In just over two months, South Africa will start their international season against Wales at Twickenham, in a test that falls outside the official World Rugby Test window.

That means Rassie Erasmus, returning Springbok coach, will most likely look to a locally-based player to lead the side in the expected absence of regular captain Siya Kolisi. Kolisi plays for Racing 92 and the French and English clubs are notorious for not releasing their contracted players – something well within their rights – when tests fall outside the international period.

Meaning Erasmus could look to the Sharks trio of hooker Bongi Mbonambi, lock Eben Etzebeth or centre Lukhanyo Am for the June 22 kick-off at Twickenham against Wales. The return of Steven Kitshoff to the Stormers later this season could also make him an option.

The Boks play Ireland and New Zealand in double tests too. Kolisi is earmarked to at least take the reins for the Irish blockbuster, but changes could come in during the Rugby Championship tournament later this year, which includes double home tests against the All Blacks.

Looking at the 2027 Rugby World Cup and when Kolisi will be 37 years old, the Boks know long-term planning will be crucial, starting this year already. Mbonambi (33) will not be a realistic option for captain in three years, especially if Malcolm Marx will be the first-choice hooker in the Bok set-up.

Two of the best viable options are Kitshoff and Am, who have not worn the national team’s armband yet, but it could be time for that. Erasmus of course has said that they won’t just make anyone captain, but with Kitshoff and Am, the current Sharks captain, the Springboks can’t go wrong.

The well-travelled Kitshoff will return after only one season in Ireland, and if Ulster does not make the final of the United Rugby Championship (URC), he could be home earlier. It will likely make him available for the Bok captaincy in that first test outside of the window.

Erasmus hinted that they may look for a captain who is playing for a local franchise, it just makes logistics easier in setting up meetings and get-togethers in the country.

Kitshoff is in his prime as a prop and looking at how well he is going, even at the age of 35, he will still be folding players he scrums against. Am, although not the loudest captain, leads through his actions, and he’s made it through a tough season at the Sharks to lead them to the semi-finals of the European Challenge Cup.

It takes a lot to lead a Bok-laden side through some troubled waters and his quiet demeanour puts him in the same mould as Kolisi and Kitshoff, who lead by example.

The 30-year-old Am has had two World Cups behind him, although he did not play any games in France, but his knowledge of the Bok set-up, being on the inside of the leadership group, and having no real competition for that 13 jersey just yet, could make him a prime candidate for the long run.

Etzebeth recently said he is not actively chasing the Bok captaincy, but if it falls to him, it would be a massive honour.

But Springbok supporters will want to see Etzebeth in the thick of things on the field, and not constantly in the ear of the referees. And until there is a clear-cut replacement for him, the Boks would want his attention to be focused on the opposition only.