After a tough season, the Springboks will prowl the Northern Hemisphere looking for reputation-boosting scalps. And with some exuberant, young recruits joining the squad, some of the veterans will need to have a big tour to keep their jersey, while some positions are open for the taking.
Tendai Mtawarira has occupied the Springbok number one jersey for eight years now and has brought honour to it but his monopoly on the position could be under threat from younger aspirants. A few years ago competition at loosehead was few, but now the nation is teeming with new challengers. The Bulls boast plenty of talent in the position, with Trevor Nyakane starting as a young gun – with a big smile and happy to be a replacement – now a Springbok with three years' experience and could well be planning to upset the status quo. Another Bull, Lizo Gqoboka, has been impressing ever since he joined the Pretoria outfit. His performances clearly haven't gone unnoticed after being selected for the Springbok squad to play the Barbarians in November. Tshego Nche remains a dark horse in the scrap for Mtawarira's jersey, but his praises have been echoed country wide after a sensational season in Bloemfontein. The Beast will need to have a fierce campaign in Europe if he is to keep the wolves at bay.
With Adriaan Strauss laying down the crown, the hallowed number two jersey becomes available for the next challenger. There are two hookers staking their claim for Strauss's position. The most likely successor is the elusive Lions legionnaire Malcolm Marx who brought a fiery presence to the Johannesburg side's attack in his first season as a regular starter in Super Rugby. The other contender is Stormers stalwart Mbongeni Mbonambi who brings a far more conservative and discerning approach to the game. It could come down to Mbonambi's Super Rugby experience versus Marx's raw grit.
With Francois Louw injured, the six jersey will no doubt be inherited by Jaco Kriel since he’s been biding his time through the Irish Series and the Rugby Championship waiting for an opportunity to prove his worth. But after Kriel was given 200 minutes over the tournament, with not much to show for it, might his legacy be under threat? Few would have predicted the national inclusion of Blue Bulls fetcher Roelof Smit but after a brief glance over his Currie Cup turnover statistics it is clear that Kriel will definitely need a critic-silencing campaign in the North.
Faf de Klerk's achievements might have been celebrated too soon as the post-Ireland Series triumph cheers turned to boos. The energetic number nine is in no way out the race. His spirited and game saving performances earlier in the season haven't been forgotten but the resurgence of the seemingly sturdier Rudy Paige would have cast some doubt on De Klerk's hold to the nine jersey. Paige started against Australia in Pretoria and his crisp distribution and cool head helped South Africa keep their hold on a tight game against the Wallabies. Paige then suffered a knock to the head 65 minutes in, depriving him of an opportunity to prove he's not a one-hit wonder but South Africa's deserved starting scrum-half. All will be revealed in Europe.
The ancient institution of Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen intermittently holding onto the 11 and 14 jerseys might finally be toppled. The Rugby World Cup winning duo have marked opposite sides of the field for almost 10 years but might now have lost their hold. New challengers are waiting in the wings. Sergeal Petersen’s rise to the top hasn’t been meteoric but rather a slog, as he slowly practiced his craft, which awed the South African public once finally brandished in the 2016 Currie Cup. Petersen could make a legitimate claim to one of the jerseys. The other is the undeniable Ruan Combrinck. After an almost perfect Super Rugby season with the Lions, Habana and Pietersen could be coming to terms with being relegated to the bench.
By Nicholas McGregor