How the Springboks could line up against Australia in their first Test of 2023

Jared Wright
Springboks Kurt-Lee Arendse, Manie Libbok and Duane Vermeulen could all face the Wallabies in the Rugby Championship opener

Springboks Kurt-Lee Arendse, Manie Libbok and Duane Vermeulen

South Africa kick off their Rugby Championship campaign against Australia at Loftus Versfeld next week, and we take a look at how the Springboks could line up.

Springboks coaches Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber have confirmed that they will be splitting the squad with a select group heading to New Zealand for the game against the All Blacks a week after their opener.

The Bok coaches have also dismissed suggestions that a ‘B team’ will face Australia, hinting that the two sides picked will be a mix for the two Tests.

Here’s what the Springboks 23 could look like against Australia in their first Test of 2023.

Mix of youth and experience

15 Willie le Roux: The Springboks will have some experienced campaigners in their team for the opener, with Le Roux claiming the number 15 jersey. He is set to be joined by inexperienced outside backs against the Wallabies and will assist the pair of speedsters as well as a Test playmaker with little international experience. 

14 Kurt-Lee Arendse: After a breakthrough rookie Test season, Arendse should get another crack at the Wallabies with Cheslin Kolbe being a likely member of the travelling squad. The Bulls outside back proved his quality in 2022 but does need to rack up a few more Test caps to further his claim for a spot in the Rugby World Cup squad.

13 Lukhanyo Am: The star centre endured a season of indifferent form with the Sharks but always raises his game for the Springboks. He is a potential captaincy replacement for the injured Kolisi, and having last played at the start of May, he could use a match to regain his form. He is the kind of player who could hit back-to-back 80-minute shifts, even with the travel added in. 

Opportunities to shine

12 Andre Esterhuizen: Damian de Allende was a regular feature in the starting line-up last year, and the Springboks do need to test their depth a bit more at inside centre. Esterhuizen has shown what he is capable of in the Premiership with Harlequins, and the Loftus Test provides a perfect opportunity to flaunt his skills in a strong Springbok side.

11 Canan Moodie: A breakout star from 2022, Moodie rocketed to stardom against the Wallabies last year, scoring on his Test debut. He is also vying for a hotly contested role in the World Cup squad. He and Arendse provide plenty of threat out wide, are good under the high ball and are solid defensively. They can also both play on either wing, and we also predict that Makazole Mapimpi will be on the plane to the land of the long white cloud. 

10 Manie Libbok: With Handre Pollard and Damian Willemse ruled out of the opener through injury, Libbok should get the starting fly-half role ahead of Elton Jantjies. The Stormers’ man enjoyed another solid season in the United Rugby Championship. Willemse is set to be fit for the All Blacks and is bound to be part of the travelling party to New Zealand and a probable starter against Ian Foster’s side.

2019 World Cup-winning trio

9 Cobus Reinach: Jaden Hendrikse forced his way up the pecking order last year, but with the scrum-half ruled out of the Rugby Championship, we predict that Faf de Klerk will be heading to New Zealand. This opens the door for Reinach or Grant Williams to grab a start, and again, the experience should get the nod for the opener. Williams will provide impact from the bench, with Herschel Jantjies likely to miss out.

8 Duane Vermeulen: Jasper Wiese has played several matches over the past two years, and managing his game time will be pivotal to getting the best out of him this year. Vermeulen could captain the side in the Rugby Championship, as he did four years ago and showed in the latter parts of Ulster’s season he proved his quality. Evan Roos could well start this game too, with Vermeulen on the side of the scrum or on the bench. 

7 Pieter-Steph du Toit: After a testing year due to injury and form in 2022, Du Toit enjoyed a stellar season in Japan. However, the Boks should use the Australia game for Du Toit to get back up to scratch with the demands of Test rugby. 

Replacing Kolisi and a returning favourite

6 Marco van Staden: Kolisi’s injury means the Springboks must test the other options on the openside. Van Staden had a tough run of injuries but took his chances well back in 2021 when he got them. Nienaber has options in Deon Fourie and Kwagga Smith, but we believe the former will be on the bench and the latter starting against New Zealand. 

5 RG Snyman: A long-awaited return to Test rugby at his old stomping ground seems fitting right? There is a case to be made whether he or Orie should start this match with Lood de Jager and Franco Mostert almost nailed on starters against New Zealand. While the Springboks management can get a good idea whether he is ready to return to Test rugby on the training ground, they will get a clear picture when he does don the green and gold, and if he looks a bit off the pace, Orie can easily replace him early in the game. 

A second Test debut and proven quality in the front-row

4 Jean Kleyn: A Test debut for his country of birth beckons as the Springboks start the year without Eben Etzebeth. Good international tighthead locks are at a premium, and Kleyn ticks all the boxes. Jean-Luc du Preez can also fill the role, but his versatility may serve the Boks better from the bench.

3 Frans Malherbe: With six props in the squad, there is bound to be some overlap in the two matchday squads for the opening two games. We predict that Thomas du Toit and Trevor Nyakane will provide impact from the bench in the opener, with Malherbe anchoring the scrum from the opening minute and Vincent Koch possibly being part of the travelling squad.

2 Bongi Mbonambi: There are three out-and-out hookers in the squad, and we believe Malcolm Marx will be the one heading to New Zealand early. That leaves Mbonambi, Joseph Dweba and the utility option in Fourie. The safe option of Mbonambi is an easy pick to get the Springboks’ year off to a good start, with Dweba adding a punch off the bench.

1 Ox Nche: Like Marx, Steven Kitshoff is the likeliest loosehead who will miss the Loftus clash. That gives Nche another chance in the starting XV with the versatile Du Toit and Nyakane amongst the reserves.

Potential bench: Joseph Dweba, Thomas du Toit, Trevor Nyakane, Marvin Orie, Jean-Luc du Preez, Deon Fourie/Jesse Kriel, Grant Williams, Elton Jantjies.

READ MORE: A talented XV of snubbed players ahead of the Rugby Championship