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Rassie Erasmus: Exciting 23 have ‘earned their stripes’

Jordan Hendrikse and Edwill van der Merwe will make their starting debuts while Ben-Jason Dixon and Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu are new additions to the bench.

Rassie Erasmus can’t wait to unleash a rejigged Springbok team with Pieter-Steph du Toit leading the charge for their 2024 opener against Wales in London on Saturday.

Fly-half Jordan Hendrikse and winger Edwill van der Merwe will make starting debuts for the Du Toit-captained Boks at Twickenham.

DHL Stormers duo Ben-Jason Dixon and Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu are the two new faces on the replacements bench.

Five players in the starting XV featured in the same positions in the 2023 Rugby World Cup final in October, where the Boks edged the All Blacks to be crowned world champions for the second time in a row. Erasmus opted for a five-three split in favour of the forwards on the replacements bench, which includes four world cup winners.

“This is an exciting playing squad and travelling group, and we are looking forward to seeing how the uncapped players step up at top international level and how we execute what we’ve been working on at training in the last few days and at the alignment camps,” said Erasmus.

“The likes of Edwill, Jordan, Ben-Jason, and Sacha have really impressed us at training, and we believe they have what it takes to make their presence felt against a quality team such as Wales.

“They will be surrounded by several experienced campaigners – some of whomare Rugby World Cup winners – so they will have enough guidance on the field to fulfil their roles even when the pressure is on. It is equally exciting for us to see players such as Aphelele [Fassi], Evan [Roos], Ntuthuko [Mchunu], and Salmaan [Moerat] back in the green in gold after earning their stripes in the last few seasons.”

Erasmus was confident that the remaining members of the travelling squad would benefit immensely from being exposed to the Test environment and to experience first-hand what is required of them during a Test week, and he had no doubt it would also bode well for the team as the Boks prepare for the 2024 season with a long-term view on the 2027 Rugby World Cup in Australia.

Commenting on the decision to hand Du Toit the captaincy, Erasmus said it was not only well deserved, but also personal for the player since the first and only time he led the team was against Wales in Washington in 2018 – a Test the Boks lost 22-20.

“Pieter-Steph has been a key figure in our system for several years now and he’s a player who leads by example on the field,” said Erasmus. “We have a strong core of senior players in this group, and we had a few options for captain, but we feel Pieter-Steph will be the right man to lead the team this week.

“He has captained the Springboks only once before and that was against Wales in 2018, and after that result, we believe it will make this match even more personal for him. Over and above that, he has immense respect from his teammates and the coaches, and we know he will accept this responsibility with great pride.”

Team news: Four debutants for Du Toit-led Boks

Erasmus was delighted to announce that Vincent Koch will earn his 50th Test cap and lauded the player for being a stalwart for the Boks.

“It’s a special achievement to play 50 Tests,” said Erasmus. “It requires one to play well consistently and to continue to deliver, and Vincent has certainly done that for us over the years. He’s a hard worker, and he’s had a great season for the Sharks, so we all share in the excitement for him ahead of this big occasion.

“Being such a good team man, I’m sure this will motivate the team even more to start the season on a high note, which will be vital to build momentum before the Castle Lager Incoming Series kicks off against Ireland in July.”

The post Rassie: Exciting 23 have ‘earned their stripes’ appeared first on SA Rugby magazine.

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