Revealed: The four South Africans that are top of England’s wishlist including the ‘peerless’ counter-attacking threat

James While
Tyrone Green tackling Hanro Liebenberg during Premiership clash in 2024.

Tyrone Green tackling Hanro Liebenberg during Premiership clash in 2024.

With the Premiership featuring a lot of South African talent, Planet Rugby understands that England’s backroom staff are always monitoring qualification of those becoming available through residency for the national side.

As we move into the 2027 Rugby World Cup cycle, James While takes a look at the four men believed to be at the top of England’s shopping list.

Hanro Liebenberg (Leicester Tigers)

With big Courtney Lawes now retired, Steve Borthwick has examined options such as Ethan Roots and Ollie Chessum on the blindside, and also has the emerging talents of Chandler Cunningham-South to consider. But in Hanro Liebenberg, already a cap centurion for Leicester Tigers, they might just have the ideal candidate to fill the big boots of Lawes to balance the England lineout options and to provide a steely breakdown presence, with the added bonus of powerful carrying from the former Junior Springboks representative.

It’s understood that, subject to checks on vacations and absences from the UK, Liebenberg becomes available for England at the start of next season and there’s a good chance that the big back-rower will get his first call-up for the end-of-year Tests where he might very well face the country of his birth.

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Jacques Vermeulen (Exeter Chiefs)

A similarly rangy tall flank in the mould of Liebenberg, Vermeulen can play across all three of the back-row positions and can fill in at lock should the need arise. Possibly a better carrier than Liebenberg but not quite the lineout force of the Tiger, big Jacques is a crucial part of the Exeter power up front and has been in magnificent form for the Chiefs all season.

Vermeulen is also a junior Springbok, playing for the U20s in 2014-15 but, despite an impressive showing in the 2015 World Rugby U20 Championship, he’s never attracted the attentions of the South African selectors.

Like Liebenberg, he becomes available for England later this year, subject to the same checks, and despite his age (approaching 30) there’s little doubt of the value he’d bring to the white shirt should he be selected.

Benhard Janse van Rensburg (Bristol Bears)

Big Benhard is one of the signings of the season for Bristol as his simplicity and skill in midfield has been an absolute feature of the Bears in 2023/24.

In 2016, Janse van Rensburg joined the South Africa age-grade side for the World Rugby U20 Championship, following injuries to S’busiso Nkosi and Embrose Papier during the tournament, flying out to meet up with the rest of the team and gaining a cap against Argentina.

The burly Bristol centre, able to play right across the backline, is one of the most influential backs in the Premiership and the value he could bring at 12 (or 13), where England are short of real Test quality operators, is undeniable.

With four years of residency completed, three of those with London Irish before the collapse of the club, it’s understood that Janse van Rensburg would qualify for the 2025/26 season and, assuming form and fitness, England would be mad not to look at the impressive talents of the Pretorian centre.

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Tyrone Green (Harlequins)

Consistently the best full-back in the Premiership, Planet Rugby understands that Green is keen to remain in the UK and to press his England claims. With ball in hand there’s few better counter attackers and his ability to beat men in chaotic spaces with brilliant footwork is peerless at Premiership level.

At his best, the Harlequin is arguably world class – just ask Bordeaux-Begles and Toulouse – and his brilliance and pace allows him to play across the back three with equal impact, but it’s at 15 – returning kicks and creating havoc – where the former Golden Lion shines.

At 26, Green is the youngest of our picks, having represented South Africa at the 2018 World Rugby U20 Championship, but he’s been playing in the Premiership since 2020.

Planet Rugby understands that conversations with Green go back as far as Eddie Jones’ tenure in terms of his intention and desire to represent his adopted home but, due to residency regulations, he will not be available for England until June 2025.

Given the timeline of his availability, it’s not beyond possibilities that he could get his international experience for the British and Irish Lions, an environment where his versatility could really add value.

One thing you can be sure of, Borthwick and co. will literally be ticking the days off until he becomes qualified, and there’s no other player in our pick list that has quite the Test potential of the brilliant Harlequins full-back.

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