2020欧洲杯小组赛赛程

How will the Springboks rebuild after their Rugby World Cup triumph?

New head coach Jacques Nienaber has a couple of positions to address after South Africa's success in Japan

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South Africa captain Siya Kolisi
South Africa captain Siya Kolisi Credit: GETTY IMAGES

2020欧洲杯小组赛赛程Having only seven matches worth of scouting material to work with has certainly provided a unique early challenge for Jacques Nienaber, the world-class defence coach now in charge of the Springboks replacing Rassie Erasmus, given Super Rugby has been suspended due to coronavirus so early into the new season.

2020欧洲杯小组赛赛程As things stand, South Africa are set to play their first Tests since winning the Rugby World Cup this summer against Scotland (twice) and Georgia, although we’ll see what state the world is in come July before booking in time to watch those games take place. 

2020欧洲杯小组赛赛程Only seven of the Springbok squad that won the World Cup were aged 30 or over, meaning South Africa’s personnel turnover will not exactly be revolutionary. But a couple of key positions do need to be addressed: full-back and No 8.

Three of the squad from Japan have officially retired: Schalk Brits (again), Francois Louw and Tendai Mtawarira, uncoincidentally the oldest members of the title-winning group.

Below is our assessment of who else might opt for international retirement, or be moved on, and who might come into the side.

Veterans

Duane Vermeulen

Age: 33
Club: Kubota Spears
Caps: 54
Position: No 8

One off-topic note to start - Vermeulen’s try-scoring record at Test level is surprisingly low, with only three in 54 Tests. For such a devastating ball-carrier who regularly put tacklers on their back over the last decade, you would expect that to be higher.

Now approaching his mid-30s, Vermeulen is into his second year playing in Japan and could feasibly carve out a few more seasons over there as the likes of Matt Giteau and Dan Carter have recently done.

A world-leading No 8 at his best, winning the World Cup seems like the perfect way for Vermeulen to end his Test career, if he wants to. Update: Vermeulen is set to re-join the Bulls in South Africa later this year, although after the end of the Super Rugby season.

Francois Steyn

Age: 32
Club: Montpellier
Caps: 67
Position: Utility back

Seems unlikely that the double Rugby World Cup winner will return to the fold, although he is still just 32 and has been a brilliant asset for the Springboks with his ability to cover so many positions and kick long-range penalties.

Midi Olympique reported earlier this month that incoming Montpellier director of rugby Philippe Saint-André is not expected to keep Steyn at the club, with other reports suggesting Steyn is set to return to South Africa. 

A reunion with the Sharks, where Steyn began his career, would make sense, and might keep him in the frame if Nienaber wants to have a veteran in camp.

Willie le Roux

Age: 30
Club: Toyota Verblitz
Caps: 61
2020欧洲杯小组赛赛程 Position: Full-back

Le Roux received a barrage of criticism from South African supporters last year but had the last laugh, starting in the World Cup final and picking up a winners’ medal.

2020欧洲杯小组赛赛程At 30 he could feasibly play through to the 2023 tournament in France. There were hopes that Le Roux would return to South Africa after the World Cup. Instead he opted to play in Japan, linking up at Toyota with Jake White.

It will be interesting to see whether Nienaber opts to bring Le Roux back, with half an eye on facing the British and Irish Lions next year, or opts to move on immediately with a younger talent, given the candidates lining up for a run at the 15 shirt.

Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Options outside the World Cup squad

Aphelele Fassi

Age: 22
Club: Sharks
Caps: 0
Position: Full-back

2020欧洲杯小组赛赛程Fassi winning a first cap, based on his sparkling start to Super Rugby this year, feels inevitable. The young Shark is rapid but already has enough of an all-round skill-set to suggest he can make it at Test level - sharp footwork, plenty of confidence, a decent boot too.

No one in Super Rugby has made more metres with ball in hand than Fassi with 622, while he also ranks second for defenders beaten (33), third for carries (75) and fourth for clean breaks with a dozen.

2020欧洲杯小组赛赛程Nienaber might want to keep Le Roux around as a mentor, understandably, and the other full-back from Japan, Warwick Gelant, is only 24. But Fassi really looks as though he has something special.

Sikhumbuzo Notshe

Age: 26
Club: Sharks
Caps: 6
Position: Back-row

Notshe swapped Cape Town for Durban ahead of the 2020 season, after several years battling for a starting berth with the Stormers, and the move has been transformative. Now in his mid-20s, Notshe has been one of the best back-rows in Super Rugby, starting mainly at No 8.

One of the tournament’s top 10 carriers, so far he has also beaten 22 defenders. Always an athletic back-row, when given room to run Notshe can be outstanding. The Sharks have unlocked that this season, leading to Notshe producing some of his best form. 

2020欧洲杯小组赛赛程With Louw retired and Vermeulen perhaps following the same route, there is space in South Africa’s back row for someone to step in and combine with Siya Kolisi and World Rugby player of the year Pieter-Steph du Toit, providing the latter is fit after a worrying injury. Notshe might not be the same size as Vermeulen - few are - but he can slot in at eight or six and on current form deserves another chance, having been last capped against the All Blacks in 2018.

Sikhumbuzo Notshe scoring for the Sharks against the Jaguares  Credit: GETTY IMAGES

The following players should also come into consideration: Ox Nche, the Sharks prop, and Cheetahs hooker Joseph Dweba, who has scored an impressive seven tries in the Pro14 this season. 

JD Schickerling, the 6ft 8in Stormers lock, Sharks flanker James Venter, one of the competition’s leading tacklers so far with 65, and the two Stormers back-rows Jaco Coetzee and former Under-20 World Rugby player of the year Juarno Augustus2020欧洲杯小组赛赛程 should all be in the frame.

Curwin Bosch, still just 22 and Super Rugby’s top points scorer this season with 72, deserves another look too, while the Lions’ back Tyrone Green2020欧洲杯小组赛赛程, who has also beaten 22 defenders this season and caught the eye with a brace against the Reds, looks promising.

Options inside the World Cup squad

In terms of replacing Brits, Mtawarira and Steyn, most of the answers are already there for Nienaber and his selectors.

Scarra Ntubeni, the long-term Stormers hooker, was capped at long last during last year’s Rugby Championship, and would provide good competition for Bongi Mbonambi, the starter against England who was forced off with an injury, and Malcolm Marx.

Loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff2020欧洲杯小组赛赛程 is entering his prime at 28 with nearly 50 caps and is there the obvious starter now Mtawarira has retired.

Many have raved about Damian Willemse’s attacking instincts at fly-half and he is continuing to develop those other areas of his game this season, starting regularly at 10 for the Stormers and still just 21 years old.

We should not forget about Jesse Kriel either, whose Rugby World Cup came to an end after the group stage defeat to New Zealand due to injury. Kriel is a quality operator, who is still only 26.

It’s worth adding at this point how young so many of South Africa’s key players are building towards 2023. Marx (25), Eben Etzebeth (28), Lood de Jager (27), Du Toit (27), Kolisi (28), Faf de Klerk (28), Handre Pollard (26), Damian de Allande (28), Lukhanyo Am (26) and, last but certainly not least, Cheslin Kolbe (26), are all primed for another World Cup run.

2020欧洲杯小组赛赛程Then you have Herschel Jantjies (23), Sbu Nkosi (24), Gelant (24), RG Snyman (25) and Kwagga Smith (26), all World Cup winners and now pushing for starting berths.

2020欧洲杯小组赛赛程Whether the cluster of 29 year-olds that includes Franco Mostert, Makazole Mapimpi and Elton Jantjies are still in the frame by 2023 is harder to say, but first of all there is a British and Irish Lions tour to focus on next year. Mapimpi in particular still looks razor sharp, with five tries in Super Rugby this season.

2020欧洲杯小组赛赛程Accounting for the options outside of the squad, and within the group who triumphed in Japan, the Springboks, under a new head coach but a familiar voice in Nienaber, are in a healthy position.

South Africa’s best XV moving forward: Aphelele Fassi; Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi; Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Siya Kolisi (c), Pieter-Steph du Toit, Sikhumbuzo Notshe

Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Ox Nche, Vincent Koch, RG Snyman, Juarno Augustus, Herschel Jantjies, Curwin Bosch, Jesse Kriel