With Morne Steyn’s retirement from international rugby and Faf de Klerk’s potential five-month layoff due to a hip injury, Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber will have some interesting choices to make when he announces his selection for the November tour on Tuesday.
Steyn’s decision is understandable, and the 37-year-old was always a stopgap after putting in incredible performances in pandemic-affected local events, but the loss of De Klerk is a major setback for the Boks heading into the trip.
When you add in the injuries to Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, RG Snyman, and Frans Malherbe, it’s clear that the changes many fans were anticipating for would be due to injuries rather than a desire to introduce a slew of new talent to the circuit.
After all, the Boks have made it obvious that they are here to win test matches, and despite the absence of Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jaden Hendrikse, and potentially even Cheslin Kolbe, don’t anticipate a lot of changes from the World Champions.
The Boks’ victory over the All Blacks returned them to the top of the world rankings, and after 18 weeks in bio-bubbles and a slew of other hurdles, the plan is to finish the year on a high with the players they’ve backed all along.
While there have been calls for several younger players to be given a chance, it appears that Salmaan Moerat’s name is the only new player in the squad who was not in the line-up in Australia, and while there have been calls for several younger players to be given a chance, that is unlikely to happen right now.
The injuries have forced the Boks to consider bringing in additional players, with the replacement for Steyn being the greatest challenge for the tour.
After all, Handre Pollard and Elton Jantjies are certain to continue, and Damian Willemse and Frans Steyn can cover in the 10 position in an emergency, so the issue remains as to whether a third flyhalf is genuinely required or if the Boks could do without one.
The fact that Robert du Preez plays for the Sale Sharks just down the road may make this decision easier for them, and it may allow another more flexible player to continue in the tour squad, which will be reduced from the 40-plus that were in Australia.
The injuries to Jaden Hendrikse and Johan Goosen have taken away two more alternatives for the Boks on the trip, potentially making the decision easier.
Grant Williams, who was Australia’s fourth scrumhalf, is expected to replace De Klerk, with Herschel Jantjies and Cobus Reinach vying for the starting slot in De Klerk’s absence.
Due to Malherbe’s neck injury, Vincent Koch and Trevor Nyakane will most likely be the tightheads, with Thomas du Toit expected to return to the side for the tour.
Although the case for Marcell Coetzee is compelling, it is unlikely that the Boks will be forced to make significant changes right soon, and Coetzee may choose to relax and continue slogging with the Bulls.
In normal circumstances, the tour would give players like Evan Roos and Elrigh Louw a chance to play for the Boks, while Nama Xaba has also been knocking on the door, but it’s unlikely that players like Marco van Staden and Jasper Wiese, who are both back with their clubs at Leicester Tigers, would be dropped, nor that the Du Preez twins – Dan and Jean-Luc – have done too much to be dropped.
As a result, the Bok squad will be familiar. The most pressing questions will be who will fill in for the injured and whether or if there are any bolters at all.