Springboks: Five selection talking points including a golden opportunity for Evan Roos

Dylan Coetzee
Evan Roos on the charge for the Springboks against Wales

The Springboks face England at the end of what has been a tricky Autumn Nations Series schedule that began with two losses to Ireland and France before the world champions responded with a resounding win over Italy last weekend.

England managed an astounding comeback against the All Blacks, scoring three tries in the last eight minutes to claim a dramatic draw, which sets up what will be another beauty of a Test match this weekend.

Planet Rugby has identified five selection talking points to note for the Twickenham Test.

Unavailable players

This fixture falls outside of World Rugby’s Test window, meaning the Springboks have lost access to all players based in France and, ironically, England. This means Cheslin Kolbe, Cobus Reinach, Andre Esterhuizen, Jasper Wiese and Vincent Koch are all unavailable for selection.

The Springboks are fortunate enough to have solid depth in the positions affected and should handle the hurdle without much fuss. However, the situation does force head coach Jacques Nienaber to utilise some players he otherwise may not have used, for example, Thomas du Toit, on the bench.

Nienaber was very lucky that the Japanese clubs were happy to release their players for the fixture, or there would have been a radically changed line-up, with the likes of Malcolm Marx, Franco Mostert, Faf de Klerk, Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel all missing out. Fortunately for the Springboks, that is not the case.

Evan Roos’s golden opportunity

The young Stormers number eight took the United Rugby Championship by the jugular in its inaugural season as he powered the Cape Town men to a memorable title. Roos won every player of the season award in one of the biggest breakthrough campaigns one will see.

However, his transition to Test level has not been as smooth, with Leicester Tiger Wiese rightfully owning the number eight jersey. The performances of the incumbent and the mixed results of the Springboks have not really allowed a real chance for Roos, who has had to battle with the versatile Kwagga Smith in the pecking order.

The time is now. Roos has experience in the team’s structures and minutes at the highest level. Without a shadow of a doubt, the 22-year-old is ready, and this game is his opportunity to announce himself in the Test arena.

From a Springbok fan’s perspective, we’re all set to see a rampant Roos in green and gold.

Half-backs

The current Springboks fly-half crisis has made selection very difficult because it is a balance of giving Damian Willemse more time in the saddle whilst trying to offer Manie Libbok enough minutes to prove that he is the man for the job and rise above his Stormers teammate in the pecking order.

Personally, after the Libbok cameo against Italy, he should be starting against England. Once again, it is a risk, but the playmaker is clearly ready and injected dynamism and potency into an average Springboks attack.

However, sticking with Willemse is not necessarily a bad decision. The Willemse-Willie le Roux axis works, bringing out the absolute best in the full-back whilst protecting the stand-in fly-half.

It is lovely to see Jaden Hendrikse back in a matchday 23. De Klerk has done extremely well and deserved to be chosen ahead of the Sharks star, but at the age of 22, Hendrikse still has so much to offer and can be built into a fantastic Test player.

This is another decision enforced by missing players but also another with its benefits.

Back-three

Since the World Cup triumph, the back-three has had the standard Le Roux, Makazole Mapimpi and Kolbe make-up (fitness providing), but this season, the Springboks management has grown this area of the team.

Kurt-Lee Arendse has been the find of the year for South Africa, so much so that Mapimpi lost his place in the matchday 23 entirely last weekend as the combination with Kolbe on the wings has outrageous potential in suitable games.

Outside of that, Canan Moodie has shown he has what it takes on the wing, meaning Nienaber is blessed with options and can build his back-three based on exactly what he wants to exploit in the opposition.

There may also be an additional injection from Mapimpi, who looked safe as houses in the 11 shirt before, by no fault of his own, being dropped. He will want to kick on and remind the coaching staff that he has 22 tries in 35 Tests.

In the back-three, things are only looking up for the Springboks.

5-3 bench

The mixed results in 2022 and the personnel used have certainly made the 6-2 split less concrete in the Springboks’ plans, as Nienaber has gone for a regulation 5-3 bench and not for the first time.

Again it is lovely to see Du Toit in a Springboks 23. The prop is an intelligent leader and always a positive contributor to any side, both on and off the field. Marco van Staden comes straight into the squad after only being called up this week, displaying South Africa’s depth at loose forward.

Moodie is probably the reason for the 5-3 bench, as the outside back would have been more involved in the Autumn Nations Series if it were not for a hamstring problem. However, it will be good to see the 20-year-old get more experience as he is a real prospect to take to next year’s World Cup, considering his ability to play full-back and possibly outside centre.

The half-back pairing of Hendrikse and Libbok holds a lot of flair, which will hopefully be used for a significant enough period.

Libbok has to get 20 minutes at least this week.

Overall, the limitations of players being unavailable could have been more damaging for the Springboks and have actually forced some positive selections. This matchday 23 adds more than it takes away.

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