Winners and losers from the Springboks team to face the All Blacks

Jared Wright
Springboks captain, coach Jacques Nienaber and winger Kurt-lee Arendse Rugby Championship All backs new zealand

Springboks captain Eben Etzebeth, head coach Jacques Nienaber and winger Kurt-Lee Arendse.

Jacques Nienaber has named his matchday 23 to face the All Blacks in round two of the Rugby Championship, with the Springboks head coach making a few surprising selections.

Eben Etzebeth will captain South Africa as they look to claim the Rugby Championship title in this year’s shortened format.

Following the announcement of the squad, we pick out our winners and losers. 

Winners

Eben Etzebeth

A win for the player himself but also a triumph for the supporters and coaching staff as Etzebeth earns his 111th Springbok cap – his 13th as captain.

The 31-year-old makes a timely return from a shoulder injury that saw him miss the final few matches of the Sharks’ season.

He comes into the starting line-up, replacing last week’s impressive debutant Jean Kleyn, with his experience and ability being a massive boost to the Springboks as they front up against their fiercest rival.

Thomas du Toit

Ox Nche’s injury ahead of the Wallabies Test saw Steven Kitshoff come into the run-on side, with Thomas du Toit impressing from the bench – particularly in the scrums at Loftus.

Nche’s unavailability, paired with Du Toit’s performance against Eddie Jones’ charges, has possibly resulted in the ‘swing prop’ earning his first Test cap against the All Blacks.

In the Springboks’ final Test against England last year, Du Toit was red-carded for a high tackle on Luke Cowan-Dickie, but he seemingly still has the trust of the national coaches, earning back-to-back Test caps to start the year.

The Bath-bound talent beats Trevor Nyakane to a place in the side, a surprising move after the latter missed the opening Test, keeping him fresh for this encounter. Both players can play on either side of the hooker but have spent most of their club seasons as a tighthead.

Injury may have led to Du Toit getting an extended run, but he looks to be capitalising on his opportunities and making amends for his gaffe last year.

Grant Williams

The Springboks named five scrum-halves in their Rugby Championship squad, including three Rugby World Cup winners in Faf de Klerk, Cobus Reinach and Herschel Jantjies. Jaden Hendrikse was also included in the squad but did not travel to New Zealand following his father’s death.

However, rapid half-back Grant Williams enjoyed a stunning cameo off the bench against the Wallabies and retains the role against New Zealand – beating the more experienced duo of Jantjies and Reinach.

It’s a massive show of faith in the Sharks youngster, who had a fantastic season with the Durban franchise and replicated that form in Green and Gold in his first opportunity in 2023. The All Blacks will have to be on their toes in the latter stages of the game because if Williams gets half a chance, he will likely be under the posts in a flash.

Kwagga Smith

At this point, there is no doubting Kwagga Smith’s international quality, having filled in wonderfully for Siya Kolisi when the Bok captain was injured during the 2019 Rugby Championship. He backed that up with appearances at number eight in 2021 and as the starting blindside flanker later that year when Pieter-Steph du Toit was sidelined.

However, Smith’s versatility has often seen him feature primarily from the bench for the Boks, and after a standout performance from Marco van Staden last week in the number six jersey, it wouldn’t have been entirely surprising to see Smith named among the ‘Bomb Squad’ against the All Blacks.

Instead, he gets a well-deserved chance in the starting line-up after not only delivering for the Springboks in 2022 but performing in Japan, where he was named the Japan Rugby League One’s Players’ Player of the Season.

Jasper Wiese

The powerhouse Leicester Tigers loose forward was always going to be in contention to face the All Blacks after being rested against Australia.

However, one has to wonder if Duane Vermeulen’s blockbuster performance against the Wallabies may have opened up the conversation about whether Jasper Wiese should start from the bench.

Nevertheless, Wiese starts after being one of the stars of the Bok pack this Rugby World Cup cycle and certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt. 

Springbok coaches

The Springboks have flexed their depth in naming their team for the second match, with several standout performers against Australia dropped from the matchday squad entirely; more on that later on.

The coaching staff even named a larger second group of travellers to join the squad in New Zealand after their performances in round one, and the state of the replacements is further testament to the healthy selection headache they currently have.

Few, if any, Test nations would have the luxury of selecting the likes of Malcolm Marx, Vincent Koch, Thomas du Toit, RG Snyman, Pieter-Steph du Toit and last week’s captain Vermeulen on the bench, but the Boks do, and their starting line-up is not poorer for that decision. 

RG Snyman

After a horrid run of injuries, Snyman earned his first Test cap for the Springboks since the 2019 Rugby World Cup final last weekend against the Wallabies.

It was a welcomed return for the fan-favourite second-row, and having got through the match unscathed, he is set to earn his 25th Test cap from the bench.  

Losers

Kurt-Lee Arendse

10 tries in his last seven consecutive Tests, including a hat-trick against Australia in his most recent game in Green and Gold, but Arendse has been left out of the squad to face the All Blacks.

The serial try-scorer has been replaced in the squad by the excellent Makazole Mapimpi, the star of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, who will be looking over his shoulder nervously, considering Arensde’s form.

It seems like a harsh call on the pocket rocket winger, but this was clearly a pre-planned selection which will make it easier to swallow but make no mistake, the coaches are well aware of his capabilities. 

Marco van Staden

Van Staden filled the iconic number six Springbok jersey last week, starting a Test for the first time, and quite frankly, he was unplayable.

He clearly outplayed his opposite number, Wallaby centurion Michael Hooper, and was undoubtedly in the running for a man of the match award.

As is the case for Arendse, Van Staden’s omission was a pre-planned one, although his efforts could have earned him a spot on the bench. Alas, it was not to be.

Scrum-halves

We have already discussed the depth the Springboks have at scrum-half, and while Williams earned his place on the bench, the likes of Reinach and Jantjies will be disappointed.

Jantjies has fallen down the pecking order since the July Tests last year but looked to be regaining top form during the latter stages of the Stormers’ season.

Meanwhile, Reinach produced a solid performance in a Springboks’ team whose attack ripped the Wallabies apart.

Centres

Andre Esterhuizen produced arguably his finest performance in a Springbok jersey against the Wallabies, which will do his World Cup aspirations a world of good. Still, he has been omitted from the squad to face the All Blacks.

The Springboks’ decision to back a 6-2 split in favour of the forwards makes it challenging to select an out-and-out centre on the bench, and unfortunately, this is where Esterhuizen falls short.

Meanwhile, Jesse Kriel looked primed to start against the Boks’ arch-rivals on Saturday after being part of the group that departed to New Zealand early. Kriel isn’t the most popular section amongst fans, but his defensive capabilities and experience make him a key player to the squad, and he will hope to get his opportunity to shine before the World Cup.

Jean Kleyn

Another standout performer against the Wallabies who has been omitted from the matchday squad. Kleyn impressed on debut for the Boks and pressed for a place in the team against the All Blacks.

The former Ireland international said before his debut that he is just eager to contribute in any way he can, but he will undoubtedly be out to claim a spot in the World Cup squad and will need to wait a bit longer for his second chance.

Jean-Luc du Preez

The Sale Sharks forward was another member of the early travelling group to New Zealand that did not make either of the two matchday 23s.

Du Preez has been in outstanding form over the past two Premiership seasons, arguably longer, and looked set to add to his Test cap tally against the All Blacks.

His versatility could have been crucial on the bench, but he has been beaten to the squad by the likes of du Toit, Snyman and Vermueulen.

READ MORE: Eben Etzebeth to lead much-changed Springboks against All Blacks