Springbok captain Adriaan Strauss will retire from international rugby at the end of 2016. We pick five possible candidates who can replace him.
Strauss’ decision, which was announced on Thursday afternoon, was unexpected even though he said he made the decision to retire before Bok coach Allister Coetzee asked him to captain South Africa for the season.
Nevertheless, with Strauss on his way out it’s time to start thinking who can replace him in the long-term.
Probably the most realistic option at the moment. Whiteley has gained leadership experience captaining the Lions and is well spoken. He has the respect of his fellow teammates and should be a popular choice among fans. However, he will have to ensure that he stays a first-choice player in the team, especially when Duane Vermeulen returns from injury. If pushed Coetzee probably considers Vermeulen his first-choice number eight, so Whiteley will have to prove to the coach that he is the best player for the position.
When not injured, he is the Boks’ first-choice at the base of the scrum which would rule Whiteley out as a candidate for the leadership role. Vermeulen is the type of player who leads by example and would be an inspired choice as he has the respect of his peers in the Bok squad. South Africa’s player of the Year in 2014, Vermeulen has a very good rapport with Springbok bossh Allister Coetzee, who made the 30-year-old his captain during his final year as the Stormers’ head coach in 2015. The burly number eight is also Toulon’s captain but what could count against him is that he is based overseas, something which Coetzee said is not ideal when he appointed Strauss earlier this year.
The veteran winger was appointed vice-captain by Coetzee prior to the Rugby Championship and is by far the most experienced candidate for the job. Habana has never captained any teams of note on a regular basis, but his experience in the Test arena should make up for that. He remains the first-choice left wing so his place in the side should be safe for the foreseeable future. However, at 33 years of age is unclear how much time he still has left at the top. His appointment would not be a long-term one.
Earmarked as a possible Bok captain in the past by former coach Heyneke Meyer, Malherbe has little captaincy experience apart from sharing the duty with Juan de Jongh for the Stormers in Super Rugby this year. He is injury prone which has made it difficult for him to establish himself as the first-choice tighthead prop. His connection with Coetzee throgh the Stormers counts in his favour, but considering his inexperience as leader and injury record his appointment would be a risky one.
While Pollard is out injured for the rest of the year, he was the first-choice fly-half towards the end of Heyene Meyer’s tenure. With Strauss only retiring at the end of the year, his successor would effectively take the reigns for the June Tests in 2017, giving Pollard enough time to recover from injury and prove himself in Super Rugby. There is no pressure on Coetzee to name Strauss’ successor before the end of the year. Pollard impressed as captain of the SA U20 side in 2014, where he was named Player of the Tournament after leading the Junior Boks to third place at the Junior Championships. At 22 (23 if the captain in named after March 11 2017) he would be a youthful choice but with a definite eye on the long-term. But he needs to get back to his best and establish himself again as the first-choice number 10 in the country.