Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber and Co ‘rebuilding’ on the deepest of foundations
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JOHANNESBURG - THE last time the Springboks faced Argentina, a match-day team consisting largely of squad-based players beat the Pumas 24-18.
That match, played on August 17 at Loftus Versveld in preparation for the 2019 World Cup campaign, afforded coach Rassie Erasmus an opportunity to test his depth and strength for the tournament.
Lood de Jager, captain Siya Kolisi, Cobus Reinach, Elton Jantjies, Jesse Kriel, Sbu Nkosi, Wilco Louw, Marco van Staden, Kwagga Smith and Frans Steyn – all of whom will play in the Rugby Championship opener tomorrow at Nelson Mandela Stadium in Gqeberha (kick-off 5pm) – were all part of the 23 that beat the Pumas then.
And Damian Willemse, Eben Etzebeth, Malcolm Marx, Trevor Nyakane, Vincent Kock and Hershel Jantjies – also picked for this clash – were part of the squad of that year, and along with the aforementioned players, formed the core of the World Cup winning team.
The picks of coach Jacques Nienaber for this weekend’s game show a continuation, a clear selection policy and strategy that is slowly introducing new talent to eventually replace the older generation, and developing those greenhorns to peak Test match readiness, while still relying on those who have now been in the national team’s structure since at least 2018.
There is one debutant in the Boks’ run-on side for tomorrow’s match in 25-year-old hooker Joseph Dweba, while Aphelele Fassi, Jasper Wiese, Ox Nche, Marvin Orie, Dan du Preez – all 26 and younger with the exception of lock Orie – and veteran flyhalf Morne Steyn are the “new” faces for the encounter.
Out of that group of players, only the effervescent Steyn, now in the twilight of his career at 37, could be considered not to be a serious contender come the next World Cup.
A gruelling three-Test series against the British & Irish Lions might have forced the hand of the selectors, but it also shows that the Boks are in good health and are developing a reinvigorated core of players who will be at the peak of their physical prowess and mental fortitude in the near future.
In many respects, resting his first-choice players plays nicely into the hands of Nienaber as he can now earnestly build and experiment ahead of the Boks’ defence of their World Cup crown in France in two years’ time.
This match against Argentina, much like the last game played between the two nations in 2019, affords the Bok management an opportunity to gauge the national team’s depth and strength, while hardening players still new to Test rugby.
Argentina have played 11 Tests since their loss to the Boks in 2019, winning five, losing three and drawing three, and although their stature was much elevated with their second-place finish in the TriNations last year, they continue to lack consistency in their results.
The Boks have no such concerns when it comes to consistency, not with a match-day 23 packed with World Cup winners, Bok squad veterans and exciting rookies.