Predicted Springboks team v Wales: 7 debuts, who fills Siya Kolisi’s void and the Cheslin Kolbe-esque flyer

Jared Wright
Split image of Sharks flanker Phepsi Buthelezi, Springboks head coach Rassie Erasmus and Lions winger Edwill van der Merwe.

Planet Rugby predicts Rassie Erasmus' first Springboks squad of 2024.

The Springboks’ first Test match of the year is almost upon us as the back-to-back World Cup winners clash with Wales at Twickenham Stadium.

With the match taking place on the same day as the URC final and outside of World Rugby’s official international window, Rassie Erasmus has several players unavailable to him.

The Bok boss also has multiple frontline players who are sidelined through injury but has the opportunity to blood in-form players into the team after admitting that the squad needs an injection of youth.

Almost two weeks ahead of the fixture, we take a crack at predicting the Springboks matchday 23 that Erasmus will select to tackle Warren Gatland’s charges at the home of English Rugby.

Predicted Springboks team v Wales

15 Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu: A big shout straight out the blocks, but with Willie Le Roux set to be unavailable for the clash, and Damian Willemse ruled out through injury – and probably Cheslin Kolbe too – there was always going to be a big decision to be made at fullback. Quan Horn and Aphelele Fassi could quite easily be in the starting role, and in the same breath, the pair could start on the wing. This could really go anyway, but our prediction is that Feinberg-Mngomezulu will get the nod to see how he adapts to Test rugby after shining despite his injury setbacks for the Stormers. He is a player with an incredibly bright future, and this could be his first step onto the big stage.

14 Edwill van der Merwe: Kolbe’s injury has thrown a spanner in the works, as it is likely that he would have started against Wales after an injury-interrupted end to his Japanese season and a relatively long break between his last Suntory game and the clash against Ireland. Having already mentioned Fassie and Horn as options on the wing, Erasmus could be turning to a more like-for-like Koble/Kurt-Lee Arendse replacement in the Lions’ pocket rocket van der Merwe. Another close call with no clear favourite, and with the Lions winger not being involved in the alignment camp, perhaps it is too soon for him with Grant Williams, another potential filler on the wing.

13 Jesse Kriel: With the risk of going too inexperienced in the backline, Erasmus is likely to back the brilliant Kriel in the 13 jumper after a stunning World Cup in the role. Lukhanyo Am is sidelined, meaning that Kriel is a frontrunner for the starting jersey. Uncapped Sharks rookie Ethan Hooker is another option for the role, while Damian de Allende provides an additional choice. His involvement will add some much-needed international experience and get him some game time under the belt.

12 Damian de Allende: While Feinberg-Mngomezulu could also turn out in the 12 jumper, it looks as if it is a two-horse race between de Allende and Andre Esterhuizen. Both players may be in need of game time, having last played on 26 and 18 May, respectively. A nice selection headache to have for Erasmus and new attack coach Tony Brown.

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11 Makazole Mapimpi: Another experience-led selection to ease the burden on the rookies in the squad, the double World Cup-winning winger is still playing at an incredibly high standard and would be a safe yet deserved selection. If not Mapimpi, perhaps Horn or Fassi? Again, there is no shortage of options.


10 Manie Libbok: Handre Pollard might be in the squad but he is unavailable for selection due to World Rugby’s regulation nine. While Feinberg-Mngomezulu, Jordan Hendrikse and Siya Masuku are all in the mix, Libbok is likely to be the man trusted to steer the ship from the start and perhaps regain some form.

9 Faf de Klerk: The Springbok nine has not played since the start of January due to injury, and the clash against Wales could well be the perfect opportunity to get game minutes under his belt. De Klerk has been a crucial part of the Boks setup since 2018, and while he is heading into the latter stages of his career, he could be a key member of the Boks squad for the Ireland series. Morne van den Berg and Grant Williams are in the running, too, and could battle it out for a place on the bench.

Loose forwards and locks

8 Evan Roos: With Jasper Wiese out through suspension, the Stormers back-rower looks to be the front runner for the number eight jersey. He and Phepsi Buthelezi are the only players who have regularly played eight for their franchises in the current squad, and Roos is bound to get the nod.

7 Pieter-Steph du Toit: The world-class back-rower, like many of his Japan-based teammates, could be in need of some minutes and could set the tone with a more youthful bench. The Wales Test could be a week too soon for Kwagga Smith, but if not, he could well be in the starting lineup too, while we expect Ben Jason Dixon to feature on the bench.

6 Phepsi Buthelezi: Sharks head coach John Plumtree likened Buthelezi to Siya Kolisi earlier this season, and with the latter unavailable for the first Test of the year, he looks to be a perfect filler earning his Test debut.

5 Franco Mostert: Another experienced selection and a player who could be in need of a bit of game time ahead of the Ireland series. Mostert is one of just three out-and-out locks in the squad and the only number five, so it’s likely that he will be in the starting XV.

4 Eben Etzebeth (c): The man we expect to lead the Springboks against Wales in Siya Kolisi’s absence. He will set the standards for the rookies in the squad.

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Front row

3 Neethling Fouche: The front row could really go two ways but we expect Erasmus to give opportunities in the starting lineup and have a ‘Bomb Squad’ insurance policy. Fouche has been phenomenal for the Stormers this season and deserves a chance and with Wales not having the most powerful scrummaging pack, he would be a safe selection.

2 Malcolm Marx: If reports are to be believed, Erasmus will start Marx in his first match since the World Cup pool stage game against Scotland, and frankly, it makes sense. The brilliant hooker is likely to hit the ground running, and if he does, Erasmus can manage his minutes better from the starting team, and if not, he can replace him whenever he sees fit. When fit, there isn’t a better hooker in the game than Marx.

1 Ntuthuko Mchunu: There are just two looseheads in the Bok squad, and as mentioned above, we are backing Erasmus to favour the less experienced options in the starting XV. Ox Nche would be a brilliant replacement in the latter stages, too.

Bench make-up

Staying with the front rowers and while Andre-Hugo Venter and Joseph Dweba could be in the running, we predict that Erasmus will go with an all-Sharks front row in Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nche and Vincent Koch providing cover with Frans Malherbe spared on this occasion.

Ben-Jason Dixon is surely going to fill one of the spots on the bench, particularly if Kwagga Smith is not quite ready yet, which leads us to predict that the Boks will opt for a 5-3 split on the bench with Salmaan Moerat providing back-five cover with Dixon.

The backline replacements are a bit more tricky to predict particularly with scrum-half but we’d predict that Williams gets the nod and would be partnered by his Sharks’ teammate Siya Masuku.

The final spot could go to Esterhuizen, Fassi, Hooker, Horn or Hendrikse. With his ability to cover both centre roles and potentially wing, Hooker is the likely choice.

Predicted 23

Starting lineup: 15 Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, 14 Edwill van der Merwe, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Evan Roos, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Phepsi Buthelezi, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth (c), 3 Neethling Fouche, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Ntuthuko Mchunu

Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Ben-Jason Dixon, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Siya Masuku, 23 Ethan Hooker

READ MORE: Bokrometer: Breaking down Rassie Erasmus’ Springboks squad, Thomas ‘The Tank’ du Toit’s ‘masterclass’ and URC standouts