Jacques van der Westhuyzen

By Jacques van der Westhuyzen

Head of Sport

First Bok squad of the year — who will Rassie Erasmus turn to?

The world champions' first Test of the new season is on June 22 against Wales in London.

Just how inexperienced will the Springbok team be that will take on Wales at Twickenham in the season opening Test in two weeks’ time?

That is the big question rugby fans are asking themselves ahead of coach Rassie Erasmus announcing his first squad of the year sometime this weekend.

Erasmus may opt to wait for the outcome of the two United Rugby Championship quarter-finals involving the Bulls (2.30pm) and Stormers (8.35pm) on Saturday before announcing his group, or he may decide to name it earlier without any players from those two teams selected.

The Boks’ first match of the year, as world champions, is in two weeks’ time exactly, on June 22 – the same day as the URC final.

Tests against Wales and Portugal

Whatever Erasmus decides, the squad he selects will be an interesting one as it will include no Europe-based Bok players as the Test falls outside the international window, while the involvement of the Bulls and Stormers in the URC playoffs may mean several players from those teams miss out as well – irrespective of whether they move on to the semi-finals or not.

Erasmus may decide those players need a rest before the Ireland Tests in July, something the Lions and Sharks players have now already had, after failing to make the URC knockout rounds. Also, the Wales match presents the Bok boss with an opportunity to blood some of the younger, promising players who’ve emerged on the scene in the last year or two.

Some of these men attended the Bok alignment camps this year, an indication they could be in Erasmus’ plans for the Wales Test and maybe also the Portugal match in Bloemfontein following the two Irish matches.

The good news for the Boks though is all the players who ply their trade in Japan are available for the Wales match; the bad news is several senior players are on an injured list that seems to be growing by the week.

If Erasmus chooses to pick a few World Cup winners out of the Japanese bunch he could turn to Kwagga Smith, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Franco Mostert, Malcolm Marx, Lood de Jager, Cheslin Kolbe, Faf de Klerk, Jesse Kriel and Damian de Allende. There are concerns around the fitness and well-being though of De Klerk and De Jager.

Cheslin Kolbe
Cheslin Kolbe could feature against Wales. Picture: Koki Nagahama/Getty Images

Of course, there are also several World Cup winners playing for the Sharks, including Vincent Koch, Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nche, Eben Etzebeth, Grant Williams, Makazole Mapimpi and Aphelele Fassi, one of the younger players who looks set for a national recall.

Lukhanyo Am and Jaden Hendrikse though are injured, along with the likes of Marco van Staden, Danmian Willemse, Steven Kitshoff and most recently Canan Moodie, while England-based Jasper Wiese is serving a long ban.

While the Lions currently have no Springboks, several players have stuck up their hands this season and Erasmus even invited some of them to his alignment camps. Here one thinks of Sanele Nohamba, Morne van den Berg, Jordan Hendrikse and Quan Horn, while others like Francke Horn and Edwill van der Merwe could also get a look-in.

Grant Williams and Siya Masuku
Sharks players Grant Williams and Siya Masuku. Picture: Steve Haag Sports/Gallo Images

Two other young players from the Sharks who could find themselves in the mix for the Wales match are Siya Masuku and Phepsi Buthelezi.

So even without all the experienced players and rising stars at the Bulls and Stormers, and that is where the bulk of a full-strength national squad is likely to come from, Erasmus has several big decisions to make.

There’s great depth in South African rugby, whatever combination the Bok boss decides on for the Wales Test; it’s now a matter of training together for the next two weeks to gel into a team that’s good enough to win the opening Test of the year.

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Rassie Erasmus Springboks (Bokke/Boks)

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