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Twickenham Test a baptism for ‘next-gen’ Bok 10s

Jordan Hendrikse and Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu will benefit from playing behind a Rugby World Cup-winning Springbok pack, writes Dylan Jack.

Jordan Hendrikse and Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu will share the playmaking responsibilities against Wales at Twickenham.

It was quite clear what Rassie Erasmus’ plan would be for the Springboks’ opening Test of the year – their first since the 2023 Rugby World Cup final – when a 35-player training squad was announced after the Vodacom URC quarter-finals.

The squad contained a bulk of world cup-winning forwards, while there was more experimentation among the backs where eight uncapped players were called up.

That gave one the sense that Erasmus’ plan would be to blast Wales off the park with as strong and experienced a starting pack as possible, allowing a more experimental backline the chance to play around a bit with new attack coach Tony Brown’s tactics, ahead of the all-important Ireland series next month.

As it has happened, Erasmus named seven world cup winners in his starting pack to face Wales, while Hendrikse and Edwill van der Merwe will make starting debuts in the backline, with another debutant back, Feinberg-Mngomezulu, on the bench.

Some were surprised that Hendrikse has got the nod ahead of Siya Masuku – the hero of the Sharks’ Challenge Cup run – and Manie Libbok to start. After all, the 22-year-old has effectively played second fiddle to Sanele Nohamba at the Lions this season.

There was some ire that Masuku was not even on the bench and left in South Africa, with Libbok travelling as the third fly-half in the 30-man squad to London. To understand that call, you have to understand that the Springboks were always only going to take three fly-halves to London and Libbok’s value lies in his experience and his ability to mirror the opposition fly-half in training, a role he performed expertly during the world cup.

Masuku’s opportunity will come. He is one hell of a talented player and he will be a Springbok, of that there is no doubt.

However, Erasmus is a man with a long-term plan and Hendrikse and Feinberg-Mngomezulu are the playmakers that will be expected to carry the Springbok mantle beyond 2027. Both are still just 22, but have been in and around the Bok environment for a couple of years now.

DHL Stormers breakthrough star Feinberg-Mngomezulu toured with the Boks in November 2022 and spent most of his time overseas training with the team, even though his game time came with the South Africa A side in the midweek match against Bristol Bears.

Feinberg-Mngomezulu may yet to have started a senior game in the No 10 jersey, but fly-half remains his primary position. It was where he captained the Junior Springboks to their first major title since 2012 in the 2021 U20 Six Nations Summer Series.

Hendrikse, who made his professional debut in 2021, has been solid as ever when called upon this year, either as a starter, substitute or inside centre, scoring 114 points in all competitions.

Aside from their youth and their ability to play multiple positions, both players have another attribute that Erasmus and the Bok brains trust seem to placing a premium on: Physicality.

With 118 completed tackles out of 135 attempts, Hendrikse ranks as the best South African-based fly-half for tackle success (87%), with Feinberg-Mngomezulu at 71%, although that may also be influenced by his playing mostly at inside centre.

By way of comparison, Masuku, no slouch when it comes to bravery and playing on the gainline, has a tackle success rate of 61%, while Nohamba is all the way down at 48%.

The fly-half channel has become a soft target in Test rugby, with most teams sending their 100kg-plus inside centres and mobile loose forwards to target that space. If you can shut it down with a physical fly-half, instead of hiding him on the wing, it’s a massive gain for your team on defence.

Erasmus has indicated that the Springboks want to retain the foundation of their back-to-back world cup successes, which includes a solid defence, while adding more layers to their game plan and expanding their depth.

Hendrikse and Feinberg-Mngomezulu fit perfectly into this plan, as they are able to mix the consistent basics like kicking accurately and completing their tackles, with the sublime. On Saturday, they will both get a shot to run the Bok backline, providing a glimpse into the future building towards the next world cup and beyond.

The post Twickenham Test a baptism for ‘next-gen’ Bok 10s appeared first on SA Rugby magazine.

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