Ken Borland
Sports Journalist
3 minute read
1 Jun 2022
9:41 am

Three Bok legends discuss key picks ahead of international season

Ken Borland

'Some guys are getting on a bit. It’s a chance to blood youngsters, certainly off the bench.'

Former Springbok stars Victor Matfield and John Smit during their playing days. Picture: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

With the World Cup in France rapidly approaching, the selection of South Africa’s squad to face Wales in the incoming series in July is under the spotlight.

Three former Springbok greats — Joel Stransky, the hero of South Africa’s 1995 World Cup triumph, 2007 World Cup winning captain John Smit, and Victor Matfield, the man of the match in the 2007 final —discussed who they would select at a function at the French embassy this week to unveil tourist attractions in southern France.

Here’s how some of the conversation between the three Bok greats went down:

Joel Stransky: “There should be one or two changes from the team we have seen in the past. There really must be an eye cast forward in selection to the World Cup, because Jacques will probably have to pick his squad in 12 months time.

ALSO READ: World Cup hero Stransky turns back the clock

“Some guys are getting on a bit. I don’t see Wales posing a formidable challenge given how they struggled in the Six Nations and lost to Italy. So it’s a chance to blood youngsters, certainly off the bench.

“Jacques Nienaber needs a fullback, Willie le Roux last year was already borderline and I don’t think Jacques should pick him. But who else is there? I don’t think Jacques will do it, but I would love to see Warrick Gelant play there, there’s Aphelele Fassi or maybe even Cheslin Kolbe has been suggested for fullback.

“But now’s the time, there were guys who have shone in the URC and you can’t ignore them. There are guys we all believe can play Test rugby, but my concern is that some of them have not even been at the alignment camps.”

ALSO READ: Key players to miss Wales tour to South Africa

John Smit: “The Springboks should use the Welsh games to see who the next eighthman, flyhalf and outside centre is. Other than that we have depth. I think Willie le Roux will still be at fullback, and we’ve got Aphelele Fassi and Warrick Gelant too, so there’s no drama in that position.”

Joel Stransky: “The problem is if we pick a similar squad to 2019 to play at the next World Cup then there’ll be half-a-dozen players 33 and over.”

Victor Matfield: “Whoever is going to play at the World Cup, no matter their age, they must play now. It was not a great year for the Boks in 2021 and they need to build a team and their confidence.

“There are one or two players who everyone says should be in the side, but they haven’t been at the alignment camps. Warrick Gelant and Evan Roos are unbelievable game-breakers.

READ MORE: Nienaber’s chance to see if Bok hopefuls can perform under pressure

“If you have one or two youngsters between the experienced players, then it will feel like they’re playing provincial rugby. But we’re not saying pick five or six new guys.”

Joel Stransky: “It might be better to pick the best 30 players now and, say one or two of them don’t step up, then you can always bring the older guys back in.”

John Smit: “The only worry with older players is that there is going to be a far bigger demand on athletes who can go the distance, so much depends on the capacity of players, the size of their engines and their ability to keep bouncing back on the field.”

Nortje to join Bok party?

Victor Matfield: “I don’t believe in testing players at Test level, but you need one or two players with x-factor that can bring the magic, otherwise you struggle to break teams down, especially with defences being so tight.

“Ruan Nortje is a fantastic player, but it’s unfortunate for him that we have four unbelievable second rowers: Eben Etzebeth is the best in the world, Lood de Jager is arguably second; there’s RG Snyman if he’s ready and Franco Mostert always adds value. Maybe Ruan will be in the group if there are a couple of injuries.”