Winners and losers from Springboks training squad as top URC tackler left out

Dylan Coetzee
Split with Phepsi Buthelezi, Ruben van Heerden and Rassie Erasmus.

Split with Phepsi Buthelezi, Ruben van Heerden and Rassie Erasmus.

Rassie Erasmus has included a whopping 11 uncapped players in his latest Springboks training squad ahead of their first Test of the year, against Wales on June 22.

The 35-man squad consists mainly of locally and Japan-based players with the exception of the Bulls, whose players remain unavailable due to the side still competing in the United Rugby Championship (URC).

Handre Pollard and Jasper Wiese are the only two players from Premiership teams named in the squad for the time being but will be unavailable for the Wales Test as it falls outside the international window.

There is much to discuss and we take a closer look at who the winners and losers are from ErasmusSpringboks training squad.

Winners

Lions

All 11 uncapped players are immediate winners and have had impressive seasons to earn their spots. The Lions’ electric campaign resulted in some of their stars being rewarded – an impressive feat considering no Johannesburg-based players were at the Rugby World Cup. Full-back Quan Horn’s consistency throughout deservedly gets him a call-up alongside livewire scrum-half Morne van den Berg, who will have to try to wade through heaps of depth in his position to get a chance.

Soon-to-be Shark Jordan Hendrikse was rewarded for his improved physicality and impressive kicking game while the hot-stepping Edwill van der Merwe gets the nod despite not being involved in any of the alignment camps. The wing’s inclusion could have been prompted by the double injury blow to Rugby World Cup winners Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie.

Challenge Cup-winning Sharks

Fly-half Siya Masuku is deservedly rewarded for his sensational turnaround of the Sharks that powered them to the Challenge Cup title. His spatial awareness on attack and very importantly his goal-kicking puts him in a strong position to start against Wales with Manie Libbok struggling for form and Pollard unavailable.

Another key player in the Sharks backline was Ethan Hooker who, like Van der Merwe, was not involved in alignment camps but gets rewarded for his form. The centre who is comfortable at 12 and 13 carries the ball extremely well and is astute at the breakdown. As is Phepsi Buthelezi who has been sensational this season, maturing into a quality back-row on both sides of the ball.

The return to form of Aphelele Fassi has been a joy to watch and Erasmus agrees, handing the ‘Weekend Special’ a return to the Springboks set-up. The full-back dominated the attack for the Sharks and with back-three stocks being tested by injury he is a valuable selection.

Also returning to the Boks set-up is one-cap prop Nthuthuko Mchunu, who is rewarded for a sound season at the Sharks.

Stormers

The Cape side bowed out of the URC at the quarter-finals but some of their stars are rewarded for their efforts. Neethling Fouche had a tremendous season and was expected to be included. His scrummaging and carrying ability coupled with his leadership made him an obvious choice. The Springboks brains trust have always liked the look of hooker Andre Hugo-Venter and he gets a shot in the set-up after a relatively industrious season.

Tackle machine Ben Jason Dixon ticked the box for Erasmus through his incredible Pieter-Steph du Toit-esque work rate. If the Springboks need options at blindside one would think Dixon is perfectly poised to step in at Test level. His ability to cover second-row as well only improves his value.

Finally for the new caps is Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, who has shown more than enough despite an injury-interrupted season. He is extremely talented and versatile across the backline, making him very valuable especially considering the injury to Damian Willemse. The Springboks must manage the Stormer correctly because he has the capacity to become one of the best players in the world in future. It will be exciting to see how he goes at Test level.

Veteran core

While the new faces are encouraging to see, the key for this Rugby World Cup cycle is to balance the new and old, with some of the veterans really standing tall at times this season. The Sharks tight forwards Eben Etzebeth, Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Vincent Koch were fantastic in the Challenge Cup final and will be important for the Boks moving forward.

The Japan contingent also shone with Damian de Allende, Faf de Klerk and Jesse Kriel all going deep in the League One play-offs. Cheslin Kolbe will be even more important thanks to the new injuries at wing.

Jasper Wiese

There is no questioning the quality of the number eight but outgoing Leicester Tiger Wiese is currently serving a six-game ban which puts him out until the middle of the Rugby Championship. Clearly, they want to keep him involved so he can help prepare and evolve the side but some might consider him lucky to still be included. His absence may well open the door for the rise of an Evan Roos, Elrigh Louw or even Cameron Hanekom.

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Losers

Injury ward

The world champions have been unlucky with injuries of late as several stars have been sidelined. Full-back Damian Willemse is not available after having finger surgery last month while Canan Moodie went under the knife just days ago with a hand issue. Adding to the back-three woes is Kurt-Lee Arendse, who fractured his cheekbone against Benetton. Arendse has not been completely ruled out yet with a chance he could return in time for the Ireland series.

Steven Kitshoff suffered a big knee injury at Ulster and is still on the sidelines, as is Lood de Jager, meaning other players will have to pick up the slack.

The injuries in the pack will be easier to deal with compared to the backline concerns that all put pressure on the back-three stocks of the Springboks.

Stormers pair

The most tackles in the URC and a very strong season looked like it would be enough for Ruben van Heerden to earn selection but it was not to be. He may just be a victim of depth but it is still baffling as the second-row was one of the Stormers’ best all season long on both sides of the ball. It will be gutting for a player who will feel he could not have done more to get selection.

Similarly but to a lesser extent is wing Suleiman Hartzenberg, who is one of the first names on the Stormers team sheet. He is brilliant in the air, mature beyond his years and even has a decent kicking game. On the surface, it appears he lost out to the extra dynamism and physicality of Van der Merwe.

Unlucky Lions

So many responses to the squad begin with ‘Where is Sanele Nohamba?’ and it is a fair question. The Lion was concussed last weekend against the Stormers but there is no clear mention that he missed out due to injury. It is a difficult one for Nohamba who has been the heartbeat of the Lions whether from nine or 10 this season. The ability to play both half-back positions appeared to be such an asset to a team like the Springboks, who encourage versatility but it was not to be for the playmaker.

In the pack, hulking prop Asenathi Nthlabakanye has shown tremendous growth and was partially in the conversation but once again he is another player who is a victim of depth. That may not rule him out for the future.

Outside duo

For the alignment camps, Erasmus had some unconventional selections in Pumas prop Sampie Swiegers and Cheetahs hooker Marnus van der Merwe who both miss out. It is not that surprising to see the duo not being selected but because of their involvement earlier in the year, they will be tracked closely by Springboks management.

READ MORE: Rassie Erasmus names 11 uncapped stars in Springboks training camp ahead of intriguing Test season