With club rugby over for another season, the thoughts of many fans have been turning towards the upcoming World Cup and the squads that their teams will be selecting. However, for the teams of the Rugby Championship, their focus has had to be initially on a shortened version of their annual tournament.
Despite coming 3rd at RWC2015, the loss to Japan in the pool stages meant that this was a roller-coaster of a tournament for them, which has continued over the following years, with a loss to Italy in 2016 and a 57-0 embarrassment at New Zealand some of the biggest low points. Though results still may not have gone their way, they have looked better since Rassie Erasmus replaced Allister Coetzee in the head coach role and have even had a couple of great results against the All Blacks. This is a team that look on the up.
As I have done with a number of other nations, I will be continuing my “Journey to RWC2019” series with predictions of each 31-man squad for the Rugby Championship teams, continuing today with the Springboks. With the Rugby Championship being so close to the World Cup, I am using the squads they have picked for this tournament as the basis for my squads, taking into account the performances from the first 2 rounds but also looking some notable names who are not included but could come into consideration. To remind you, this is not the squad that I would pick, but instead the squad that I think Rassie Erasmus will pick.
Journey to RWC2019 series:
- Predicting the Wales squad
- Predicting the Scotland squad
- Predicting the Italy squad
- Predicting the Ireland squad
- Predicting the Fiji squad
- Predicting the England squad
- Predicting the USA squad
- Predicting the Argentina squad
So without further ado, I predict that South Africa’s 31-man World Cup squad will be:
South Africa generally take 3 hookers to recent World Cups, so with Bismarck du Plessis left out of the Rugby Championship squad, this looks pretty easy to pick. Malcolm Marx is one of the best hookers in the world currently and when he is at the breakdown, it is like having another flanker on the pitch, while Bongi Mbonambi has been the go-to replacement for him. The final spot goes to Schalk Brits, who retired from rugby but ended up playing again for the Bulls this season and gives a different skill-set for the opposition to defend in open play.
Vincent Koch is a key part of the Saracens scrum and will split time at tighthead with Frans Malherbe. At loosehead, Tendai Mtawarira provides experience and Steven Kitshoff has quietly become one of the best at the position over the last couple of years. Thomas du Toit has dropped down the pecking order and now looks 4th choice at best at loosehead, behind Lizo Gqoboka, who started every Super Rugby match for the Bulls this season. However, I feel that both will miss out in favour of Trevor Nyakane, who started against Australia and came off the bench against the All Blacks.
With 4 locks likely to travel, it was pretty easy to narrow down the options here. Franco Mostert’s work rate is incredible and he will likely start at 5, while the 4 shirt probably belongs to Eben Etzebeth. RG Snyman has been the next man up of late, but Lood de Jager is a quality player who could push his way into the 23 and will surely make it on the plane to Japan as well.
As captain, Siya Kolisi is sure to travel, provided he recovers in time, while I think he would be joined in a 1st choice back row by Duane Vermeulen and Pieter-Steph du Toit, who would also provide extra cover at lock. Francois Louw has continued to be a regular despite playing for Bath in recent seasons, while a strong performance in the number 8 shirt against Australia was a timely reminder of his versatility and surely confirmed his seat on the plane. Judging by previous squads that included just 5 back rowers, this leaves just 1 spot. Dan du Preez had a fantastic season before a rib injury ended it prematurely. Rynhardt Elstadt started against Australia, but I do not feel there was enough in his performance to earn him a space in the squad. Warren Whiteley has had a torrid season with injuries limiting him to just 4 Super Rugby appearances but has the experience his rivals lack (including having previously captained the team). Instead, I think that Kwagga Smith will go as his experience playing for the Blitzbokke provides a different style of play for a South African back rower, while he can also cover 8 as well as openside flanker.
3 scrum halves appears to be the norm recently for the Springboks at World Cups, and though it looked like Ivan van Zyl and Embrose Papier were being brought on for the World Cup, it looks like they have dropped down the pecking order at just the wrong time. Faf de Klerk has looked incredible since joining Sale and has worked his way not just back into the South Africa squad, but also the conversation for best 9 in the world. Cobus Reinach was also in the international code but was arguably the best 9 in the Premiership this season. Even before the Rugby Championship began this season, I felt that Herschel Jantjies had done enough to make it onto the plane as a 3rd option, but his performances against Australia and New Zealand now make me think that he will be pushing for significant playing time in the tournament.
Had he not been forced to retire, I imagine Pat Lambie would have come into the reckoning. However, with him unavailable and Sale-bound Robert du Preez not included in the Rugby Championship squad, it looks like Elton Jantjies and Handrè Pollard will travel to Japan as the 2 specialist 10s.
This was a very difficult selection to make, with 5 players (6 if you include Jan Serfontein who is currently injured but has been mentioned by Rassie Erasmus) fighting for probably no more than 4 spots. Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel have been the preferred pairing of late, so will surely travel. Frans Steyn has impressed off the bench in both Rugby Championship matches and his experience, versatility and monster boot off the tee lead me to believe that he will travel. With 2 inside centres also selected, it looks like André Esterhuizen will miss out following a poor performance against Australia, while outside centre Lukhanyo Am put in a great defensive performance against the All Blacks that likely cemented his place in the squad.
Aphiwe Dyantyi is one of the new stars coming through in South African rugby and has most likely earned a space in the XV, while Cheslin Kolbe and his lightning fast legs will surely travel even if he only makes the bench. Willie le Roux did not have the best of seasons in a struggling Wasps side, but I think his experience and playmaking ability will still earn him a call-up. If he can recover in time to prove himself, I expect Damian Willemse to travel and gain more experience for the future while also being an emergency cover at 10. The final spot goes to Makazole Mapimpi, who has been in fine try-scoring form over recent years and has been given the full 80 minutes – but not been given many chances to attack – in both Rugby Championship matches so far. If Willemse fails to sufficiently recover, Curwin Bosch would have been the obvious like-for-like replacement, but the inclusion of Steyn at centre and Bosch’s omission from the wider squad leads me to believe that they would rely on Kolbe and le Roux to cover 15 and instead select S’busiso Nkosi.
Who do you think will make it to Japan?
As we get close to RWC2019, I will be running a fantasy rugby league on the rugby magazine website, and you are all invited to join! Simply follow this link and use the Unique Token: b6c1e40d48e6