Winners and losers from South Africa’s 2023 Rugby Championship training squad

Colin Newboult

Following the announcement of Jacques Nienaber’s 40-man South Africa training squad for the Rugby Championship, Planet Rugby picks out the winners and losers.

Winners

Jean Kleyn

Ireland’s loss is South Africa’s gain… or at least it could be providing their eligibility application proves to be successful and he makes it a 41-man squad. Kleyn was brought to the northern hemisphere in 2016 when he signed for Munster and qualified for the Irish national team through residency three years later.

He was shoehorned into the squad and took the place of Devin Toner, which led to much criticism, and the World Cup clash with Samoa proved to be Kleyn’s last in a green shirt. Quite frankly, he was not ready then, but his form over the past two years, and particularly during the 2022/23 season, was seemingly too good to ignore.

That was not the case for head coach Andy Farrell, who decided to leave him out of both the Six Nations squad and, more surprisingly, his wider World Cup training squad. There is, of course, the possibility that Rassie Erasmus and Nienaber could have reached out to him before Ireland’s group was selected, but that seems unlikely.

It may prove to be a huge error from the Irish, who don’t really have a forward like Kleyn. He is a true tighthead lock, someone that has a real physical presence in the close quarters. As for the Springboks, they do have that type of player but, at the very least, they could deprive their World Cup Pool B rivals of a top quality second-row by capping him in the Rugby Championship.

2019 contingent

There is no doubting the experience of this squad with 24 of those named for the Rugby Championship also selected in the initial 31-man group for the 2019 Rugby World Cup. It is a great luxury for the coaches, who are able to maintain continuity while also drip feeding the next generation into the 23.

Some of those picked are perhaps fortunate to make it, such as Duane Vermeulen, who has not played particularly well for Ulster this season, but on the whole they deserve their places in the 40-man squad. The Boks have had their issues since winning the title in Japan, but we think they are building nicely and those 24 are going to have a big role to play over the next few months.

Marco van Staden and Joseph Dweba

Two players of immense talent but who have not been in great form over recent months. Dweba’s problem has often been his set-piece but at one stage he looked to have corrected those issues, making him a genuine contender for a place in the South Africa 23. However, those lineout wobbles have come back to haunt him and the Stormers, while his impact in the loose has decreased.

Van Staden is another to not produce the type of performances he is capable of and, as a result, is lucky to make the squad. At his best, the flanker is one of the best breakdown exponents in the game and can make metres with ball in hand due to his strength and athleticism, but that has been strangely absent over the past season.

One injured player gets in…

Siya Kolisi won’t be playing in the Rugby Championship but it shows how important the captain is that he remains part of the set-up. The standards the 31-year-old sets and his leadership off the field will be crucial as the Boks look to claim their first southern hemisphere title since 2019.

Erasmus and Nienaber will also want to keep Kolisi around so that the skipper keeps abreast of everything ahead of his expected return in August. It is great to see that the flanker appears set to be fit enough to feature in the World Cup in France as the tournament would be poorer without South Africa’s inspirational captain.

Losers

…while another misses the cut

Although Kolisi has been selected, another injury doubt does not in the form of Frans Steyn, who is currently out of action after surgery on a knee issue. The utility back has previously spoken of his desire to play in what would be a fourth World Cup.

That, however, appears unlikely with Steyn struggling to be fit for the global tournament, let alone the Rugby Championship and warm-up matches. The coaches are big fans of the 36-year-old, especially with the versatility he brings and his hefty boot, but at the moment his World Cup dreams are fading away.

Stormers’ in-form duo

Hacjivah Dayimani has been one of the best players in the United Rugby Championship and Champions Cup this season. He filled in superbly for Evan Roos at number eight as the 23-year-old struggled with form and fitness, but it is Roos that gets the nod in the Boks squad.

Dayimani is a tremendous athlete with a superb skill set but perhaps there are doubts over his physicality at the very highest level. You don’t quite get the same opportunities to run with the ball in space in the Test arena, but he is still unfortunate to miss out.

Meanwhile, Stormers team-mate Dan du Plessis will also be cursing his luck following an outstanding campaign for the Cape Town outfit. Quick and strong, he is the archetypal South African centre, and has an incredible ability to drive through contact and easily make it over the gain line. Du Plessis is also a very smart player and perhaps should have been in the conversation at 12. His time will no doubt come, although it may now be after the 2023 World Cup.

Tough on Bulls forwards

We mentioned how fortunate Dweba was and that selection probably comes at the expense of Johan Grobbelaar, who has not been rewarded for his consistent excellence at the Pretoria-based side. Grobbelaar is an all-action hooker that can do it all, as he combines a strong set-piece game with an outstanding ability to pilfer ball at the breakdown.

The front-rower also carries hard and is a workhorse in defence, making tackle after tackle. The 25-year-old is another who has time on his side, but he will have been desperately disappointed not to have featured in the squad.

That could also be said of Elrigh Louw, a player that has his admirers in the Springbok coaching set-up. Like Grobbelaar, Louw is strong over the ball and a real threat at the contact area. He is an equally strong carrier and a real powerhouse in the tight, but perhaps the Bulls’ meek surrender in the URC play-offs cost them. We felt both were playing well enough to feature, but it was not to be for either Louw or Grobbelaar.

The end for Warrick Gelant and Elton Jantjies?

Both players are wonderfully talented individuals, capable of doing extraordinary things on a rugby field, but their consistency, especially at international level, has always been questioned. Gelant had a great season for the Stormers in 2021/22 but his move to Racing 92 has not paid off, where he has been in and out of the XV. At the age of 28, his Bok ambitions are not over, but with the quality they already have and the talent coming through, it is a long road back.

As for Jantjies, he has had a troubled time of it off the field since 2022 following an alleged affair with Springbok dietician Zeenat Simjee. He has not featured for the national team since then and is rebuilding his career in France’s second tier, the Pro D2.

Jantjies has played pretty well for Agen towards the end of the campaign, but ultimately it is probably too low a level for him to be considered, especially with other options playing very well. The playmaker is now the wrong side of 30 and will do well to get back into contention going forward.

READ MORE: South Africa look to snatch Jean Kleyn back as Rugby Championship training squad named