Nienaber face ‘very difficult’ squad selection ahead of World Cup

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  • Post published:August 7, 2023

Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber is facing a “very difficult” squad selection ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

At least 24 of the survivors will probably be on the 2023 team, which will be named on Tuesday in a TV studio in Johannesburg.

The two unlucky players could be scrum-halves Herschel Jantjies and Cobus Reinach, who would be the second and third choices after Faf de Klerk at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

“We have given 38 players opportunities to play in four games and it is going to be a very difficult squad selection meeting,” admits South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber.

There are 42 candidates for the spots, but inspirational captain and flanker Siya Kolisi, star fly-half Handre Pollard, and prop Ox Nche have not played this season because of injuries.

A Springbok insider told AFP that Kolisi is “looking good” for the warm-up games against Wales on August 19 in Cardiff and New Zealand six days later in London.

Pollard kicked 22 points in the last final, but he is now training alone because he hurt his calf. His chances of playing against the Welsh are “no more than 50 percent.”

Scrum-half Jaden Hendrikse also missed the three Rugby Championship games and a warm-up Test in Argentina over the weekend because his father died recently.

South Africa is in Pool B with Ireland, the top-ranked Test team right now, Scotland, Romania, and Tonga. They want to win a record fourth World Cup title.

If South Africa and Ireland finish in first and second place, they will play against the winner and runner-up of Pool A, which will almost certainly be France and New Zealand.

AFP Sport looks at some of the tough decisions that Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus, the man who planned the 2019 World Cup win, will have to make.

Canan Moodie and Makazole Mapimpi did great jobs on the wings in a 24–13 win in Buenos Aires. It will be hard to leave out either the rising star or the veteran.

If both get picked, the centre Andre Esterhuizen is likely to be left out because he is fourth on the list, behind 2019 players Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, and Jesse Kriel.

But there are worries about Am, who left the game in Argentina at halftime because the team doctor said “he cannot continue” because of a knee injury.

Unless he gets hurt, De Klerk will start against Scotland when South Africa plays its first pool game on September 10 in Marseille.

But experts can’t agree on which two of Hendrikse, Jantjies, Reinach, and Grant Williams should be the back-ups.

Jantjies and Reinach have been to the World Cup before, but Williams, if he gets over his concussion, and Hendrikse, a smart box-kicker, are strong competitors.

Malcolm Marx and Bongi Mbonambi will be picked for sure. One will start and the other will come off the bench in South Africa’s five most important games.

But will the third spot go to specialist hooker Joseph Dweba or flanker and former hooker Deon Fourie? Both of them know France well because they both played for French teams.

In 2019, the Springboks chose players who could do a lot of different things. Back-row forward Schalk Brits was the third choice hooker because he had played there before.

Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, and RG Snyman are all going to France. Etzebeth and de Jager started in the 2019 World Cup final, and Snyman came in as a sub.

Since Pieter-Steph du Toit and Franco Mostert, who are likely to be picked for the back row, can also play in the second row, only one other lock is likely to be picked.

That will be a straight fight between Marvin Orie and Jean Kleyn, who was born in Johannesburg and lived in Ireland for five years before deciding to switch allegiances this year.

In Japan, when the first choice line-up was chosen, Kolisi, Du Toit, and Duane Vermeulen took the three starting spots in the most crowded sector.

If the captain stays healthy in warm-up games against Wales or New Zealand, the same starting three should play against the Scots.

Mostert, Kwagga Smith, Jasper Wiese, and maybe even Fourie could also be named, which would mean that Jean-Luc du Preez, Evan Roos, and Marco van Staden would lose their spots.

Photo by Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix