South Africa: Door still open for Springbok selection says Jacques Nienaber

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

Springbok head coach Jacques Nienaber said the door is still open for players hoping to stake a claim for the Rugby World Cup in France later this year.

Nienaber revealed that he and his backroom staff are keeping tabs on a group of about 60 players ahead of their upcoming international campaign.

Training camp in full swing

A group of 14 players are currently at the Springboks‘ first training camp of the year in Cape Town after a break from the United Rugby Championship (URC). They have been participating in several gym and training field sessions as well as alignment meetings with the Bok coaches and management team.

The camp started on Sunday, February 19 and will run until Friday, March 10. Following that, the players will return to their franchises for the closing stages of the URC and Champions Cup tournaments.

Nienaber discussed about the importance of the camp and the make-up of the group and said most of the players had very little rest in the last two seasons as the South African franchises breached the divide between the southern and northern hemisphere.

“Most of the players participating in this camp have not had a break since the British & Irish Lions series due to the combined northern and southern hemisphere seasons,” he told the Springboks’ official website.

“That sums up the importance of this block for us. It was also fantastic that we were able to plan this break during the Six Nations competition as the other franchises will also be without their top players.

“The biggest mistake one can make though is to assume that these players will be in the Rugby World Cup squad. We are currently tracking around 60 players, but at the same time the door is open for any player to throw their name into the mix.

“We used close to 50 players in the last two years since the Covid-19 pandemic, many of whom were in our bubble, but that said, form does influence selection and the door is always open for someone who is not necessarily in the mix to prove that he deserves a place in the squad, as Herschel Jantjies did in 2019.”

SA Rugby’s head of athletic performance, Andy Edwards, is delighted to start what will be an important year for the Boks with the Rugby World Cup kicking off in September.

He said the break and this development block was crucial for the players from a physical and rugby perspective.

“We have players playing all around the world, so it was important for us to enter this year in a sensible way,” said Edwards.

“Most of these players have been on a long stretch following the shift into the northern hemisphere, and while there are many positives to playing in the north, it created challenges for us from a rest and development window perspective.

“With a break in the URC, we tried not to disrupt the teams too much, and to factor the rest in at a time when the other teams were also without their internationals due to the Six Nations. And it is exciting to start the year with this block going into the Rugby World Cup later this season.”

Commenting on the differences tracked from the 2019 World Cup to this year, Edwards said: “We measured a few things from the last World Cup to now and there are things that have stood out, such as the way the season has evolved and demands on the players.”

South Africa will start their 2023 Test campaign with a Rugby Championship clash against Australia in Pretoria on Saturday, July 8.

That will be followed by an encounter against New Zealand at the Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland a week later and Argentina in Johannesburg on Saturday, July 29, in their last match on home soil before they start the build-up to the defence of their Rugby World Cup title.

In August, the Boks head to Buenos Aires to face Los Pumas before they take on Wales and the All Blacks in Rugby World Cup warm-up games in Cardiff and London, respectively. That will bring their World Cup preparations to an end before they head to France for the global showpiece.

World Cup campaign starts against Scotland

They start their Rugby World Cup campaign on Sunday, September 10, against Scotland in Marseille, before facing Romania in Bordeaux (September 17), Ireland in Paris (September 23) and Tonga in Marseille (October 1) in their other pool matches.

The Rugby World Cup quarter-finals will take place on the weekend of October 14/15, with the semi-finals on October 20/21 and the final on Saturday, October 28.

READ MORE: Cheslin Kolbe: Springboks moving to the Six Nations ‘would be amazing’

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