Rassie Erasmus: ‘Vital’ box the Springboks must tick to claim World Cup three-peat

Adam Kyriacou
Springboks head coach Rassie Erasmus speaks ahead of Wales game.

Springboks head coach Rassie Erasmus speaks ahead of Wales game.

Springboks head coach Rassie Erasmus is keen to build squad depth after naming a much-changed side for their opening Test of the year against Wales on Saturday.

Just five players retain their place from the Rugby World Cup final starting team that managed to overcome the All Blacks 12-11 at the Stade de France on October 28 last year.

Otherwise it is an altered side due to injury, unavailability because of the United Rugby Championship final and the match falling outside of World Rugby’s international window.

Challenges

Jordan Hendrikse and Edwill van der Merwe will start at fly-half and wing, respectively, as the two uncapped players named in the XV for the match at Twickenham. Meanwhile, back-five forward Ben-Jason Dixon and utility back Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu have been picked on the bench as they wait patiently for a potential debut.

While Erasmus admits there have been selection issues due to the Springboks being without many of their star players, he insists Saturday is a “fantastic opportunity” for them.

“We knew what challenges we would face in selecting the squad for this training camp and the Wales Test, but as a team we turned it into a fantastic opportunity to blood a few youngsters and expose them to the national set-up, which will be vital in the next few years as we build a squad capable of trying to win the Rugby World Cup in 2027,” he said.

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“We are already reaping the rewards of exposing a few players to Test rugby in the last few years, with some of them being selected for the World Cup, while a few of the players taking the field on Saturday already know what it takes to succeed at international level.”

He added: “Building squad depth is one of our key pillars as a team, and this camp and Test match, as well as the one coming up against Portugal in Bloemfontein in the Castle Lager Incoming Series, will allow us to tick that box with an eye on the next few years.”

One player who is very much established in the Springboks set-up is veteran tighthead prop Vincent Koch, who will earn a 50th cap for his country against Wales this weekend.

Erasmus reserved special praise for the Sharks forward as he handed the Shark a start ahead of Frans Malherbe, who is named on the bench for this opening fixture of the year.

“It’s a special achievement to play 50 Tests,” said the head coach. “It requires one to play well consistently and to continue to deliver, and Vincent has certainly done that for us over the years.

“He’s a hard worker, and he’s had a great season for the Sharks, so we all share in the excitement for him ahead of this big occasion.

“Being such a good team man, I’m sure this will motivate the team even more to start the season on a high note, which will be vital to build momentum before the Castle Lager Incoming Series kicks off against Ireland in July.”

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