Opinion: Springboks have built some depth during challenging year

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

When reflecting on the Springboks’ 2022 season to date, it has undeniably been a strange year filled with mixed results as the team has looked to diversify depth, experiment with new ideas and build towards next year’s World Cup. At the same time, the Boks have of course been also looking to ensure they win and perform with consistency.

A somewhat satisfactory 2-1 series win over Wales in July was followed by a Rugby Championship campaign where the Springboks stood a chance of clinching the trophy heading into the final round, but ultimately fell just short.

The Springboks have now started off the end-of-year tour with back-to-back losses against Ireland and France, which were their fourth and fifth defeats of the year. Meanwhile, the team has claimed six wins in 2022 to date.

South Africa should be expected to claim a comfortable and much-needed victory against Italy this weekend, but the Springboks will not be at full-strength when they face England in the final Test of 2022 due to some overseas-based players being unavailable.

If the win over Italy does end up being the Boks’ only victory on the end-of-year tour, there would be a real sense of disappointment. In that essentially worst-case scenario, the Springboks could end the year with seven victories, six losses, and a win percentage of just 54% that will pile some pressure on the coaching staff and player group.

However, in the year before a World Cup, results are not the only thing that matters, and there is no doubt the Springboks have expanded their player depth in some positions.

Let’s take a closer look at what the Springboks have achieved in a key season before the 2023 global tournament.

Full-back

There is probably a two-player shootout for the number 15 jersey. Damian Willemse started the season at full-back, and looked set to make the position his own before an injury to Handre Pollard saw him shifted to fly-half. Willemse is certainly a strong option at full-back, but the Boks seem to view him first and foremost as a number 10. Meanwhile, Willie le Roux has been highly influential in most Tests he has played this year, and could be the best man for the job at the high-pressure World Cup.

Right wing

Cheslin Kolbe is the unequivocal incumbent, but an injury earlier this year led the Boks to expose the likes of Canan Moodie and Kurt-Lee Arendse to Test match rugby on the right wing. Both players certainly enhanced their reputations this season, importantly building real depth in this position.

Outside centre

The Springboks have certainly missed Lukhanyo Am since he suffered a serious injury during the Rugby Championship. However, it could also prove to be a blessing in disguise as Jesse Kriel has since banked some meaningful game-time in this role, proving to be a reliable replacement.

Inside centre

This is perhaps one area of concern for the Boks. Damian de Allende has been firmly entrenched in the number 12 jersey, but it’s fair to say this hasn’t been his best season on the Test stage. Andre Esterhuizen has had limited opportunities to show what he can do as a back-up option, while the same could be said for Willemse.

Left wing

The Springboks know what they have in Makazole Mapimpi, who remains an immovable first-choice option in this position. Importantly, though, they opted to deploy Arendse in the number 11 jersey just this past weekend, and this does seem to be a decent alternative.

Fly-half

There is no guarantee that Pollard will simply reclaim the number 10 jersey once he has returned from injury. That speaks volumes about Willemse’s evolution as a Test fly-half this year, while Manie Libbok, Johan Goosen, Frans Steyn and Elton Jantjies have been in the Bok picture this year. It’s been a contentious position for the Springboks in 2022, but there is no doubt that depth has been built.

Scrum-half

Jaden Hendrikse, Faf de Klerk, Cobus Reinach, Hershel Jantjies, Grant Williams. There are no shortage of options here for the Boks, and this is one position where there has been some of the healthiest competition.

Number eight

With Duane Vermeulen battling injuries and indifferent form, Jasper Wiese has risen to the occasion and offered a viable alternative for the Springboks. Some might be disappointed that Evan Roos hasn’t received more of an opportunity, but it’s clear that the coaches are looking for a specific type of player in this position, while Kwagga Smith will offer emergency cover.

Blindside flanker

There will be an unexpected concern for the Springboks at blindside flanker considering Pieter-Steph du Toit hasn’t been at his best this year. Franco Mostert has provided back-up, while Smith can fill in if the need arises, but it’s not a position where the team has satisfactorily built much new depth.

Openside flanker

The good news for South Africa is that captain Siya Kolisi has been in simply sensational form on the Test stage once again this year, but the bad news is that they are probably less sure who could play a similar role if he was unavailable.

Number five lock

In Lood de Jager and Mostert, South Africa are fortunate to have two players of immense quality in this position. However, it’s a pity Marvin Orie hasn’t been able to bank some more game-time this year.

Number four lock

Eben Etzebeth has started all 11 Tests this year, and the Springboks haven’t satisfactorily built much depth beyond this. Salmaan Moerat or Jason Jenkins could offer options, but the importance of Etzebeth to the Bok cause can’t be overstated.

Tighthead prop

With players such as Frans Malherbe, Vincent Koch and Trevor Nyakane, the Springboks boast enviable competition in this position and haven’t really had the need to cast the net wider to include any newcomers.

Hooker

This year has seen Malcolm Marx take his game to the next level, and there is increased competition between him and Bongi Mbonambi for the number two jersey. There is concern around the third-choice option, though, with Joseph Dweba having failed to really take his chances. However, Deon Fourie has emerged as one of the Bok bolters this year.

Loosehead prop

There is little to choose between Ox Nche and Steven Kitshoff, while Thomas du Toit and Trevor Nyakane continue to offer cover with their versatility. The Springboks will know they are well-covered here.

READ MORE: Autumn Nations Series Team of the Week: France dominate while Italy also rewarded

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