Springboks: Five selection talking points ahead of the France Test including half-backs, the back three and goal-kicking

Springboks: Split image of Le Roux, Willemse, Libbok and de Klerk Credit: Alamy
Springboks: Split image of Le Roux, Willemse, Libbok and de Klerk Credit: Alamy

Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber has made five changes to his starting lineup to face France this weekend in Marseille.

Nienaber’s men head to France on the back of a narrow 19-16 loss against Ireland that exposed weaknesses in certain positions within the squad.

Planet Rugby breaks down five selection talking points ahead of what is set to be another thrilling Test in the Autumn Nations Series.

Half-backs

The Springboks have opted to retain Damian Willemse at fly-half despite his struggles against Ireland, a decision that has its pros and cons.

The upside is that it protects the player because if the management were to drop the Stormers star, it might have significantly impacted his confidence going forward.

The downside is that pressure remains on the 24-year-old to, at the very least, execute the fundamentals, including effectively kicking for touch, kicking well out of hand and possibly increasing his distribution.

Willemse’s performance last week underlined that whilst the utility star can step into the role of playmaker, it is unlikely he can win the Springboks a World Cup in that position. His extraordinary talent should be used elsewhere in the squad and Manie Libbok being named on the bench shows that Nienaber is building the Stormer up to possibly start against Italy next week.

It would have been interesting to have seen Libbok thrown in at the deep end to start against France, but the importance of supporting and backing Willemse has its merit, and Libbok will undoubtedly take to the field for his Springbok debut.

Meanwhile, Jaden Hendrikse drops out of the matchday 23, with Faf de Klerk returning to the starting lineup, is a clever selection. The World Cup winner added impressive energy off the bench, while his experience and kicking game will provide a better support structure for Willemse to execute his fly-half duties.

It is a pity Hendrikse was not up to speed against Ireland, but this half-back pairing is a sensible call, and all eyes will be on Willemse to see if he can show his class by bouncing back against a tricky French side.

Goal-kicking

Kicking for goal remains the elephant in the room for the Springboks, as this week’s selection has not done much to mitigate the issue. But, of course, this all relates to the above point of getting behind Willemse and showing faith.

It is uncertain whether the fly-half will take on the kicking duties or whether it will be De Klerk, who did it in periods for Sale Sharks in the Premiership. He proved that he is an adequate kicker without being outstanding, so it will be interesting to see if the scrum-half will take on the responsibility.

Cheslin Kolbe kicked against Ireland with mixed success but Nienaber is set to back him as the Boks’ first choice goal-kicker this weekend.

Depending on how the game plays out, goal-kicking could influence how many minutes Libbok will play. If the Springboks are leaving points on the field and need to close the gap, then the fly-half may be called on earlier. On the other hand, a solid goal-kicking performance could well earn the Stormers’ playmaker a start against Italy and possibly England.

Back three

For the first time in what feels like an age, Makazole Mapimpi has been dropped to the bench – by no fault of his own – as the Springboks look to make use of Kolbe and Kurt-Lee Arendse on the wings.

The primary reason for this is how far France kicks, which may be conducive for counter-attacks from the South Africans, making the selection of the elusive pair a fair one. However, while there is merit to the thought process, it is a harsh decision for Mapimpi, who has not done much wrong and defended brilliantly against Ireland, including a crucial spot tackle that prevented a likely try.

The two speedsters are joined by veteran Willie le Roux, who returns to the starting lineup after an impressive cameo against Ireland. The Springbok attack immediately became more cohesive and potent when the full-back took to the field.

The importance of Le Roux extends beyond the backfield, as every time Willemse has fired at 10 for the Springboks in 2022, it has been in tandem with the full-back. Le Roux takes on a big kicking responsibility and pops up at first receiver on attack, allowing Willemse to create more width with his powers of distribution.

Like it or not, Le Roux is the glue for the Bok backline that almost always looks average without him.

Front-row

Changes in the front-row were expected after the trio of Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and Frans Malherbe had started several consecutive Tests together.

Ox Nche is an outstanding rugby player and is only getting better. He will be itching to get stuck into the French front-row after returning to the starting lineup. Kitshoff is arguably more impactful off the bench, meaning there is nothing lost with this change.

At hooker, Bongi Mbonambi returns to the starting XV, with Marx moving to the bench. This is a good rotation in selection and probably the more effective combination; Mbonambi is world-class but cannot impact a game later on as Marx can. Let the Sharks star lay the foundation for Marx to tear into the French pack in the second-half.

Malherbe has earned every start of his career. The tighthead is a sensational scrummager, and he is always in the best front-row combinations that the Springboks field. It is an absolute no-brainer to keep him in the starting side, although he will be looking for more reward at scrum-time this week.

Bench

The six-two split has been given a rest this week as the fly-half crisis, and the back-three experimentation, requires a more conventional five-three structure on the bench.

Deon Fourie drops out as Kwagga Smith remains alongside Marvin Orie as forward options outside of the front-row. Smith has perfected his role off the bench and adds impact every time he takes to the field, and the Springbok management is likely to keep him in that role for the foreseeable future.

Scrum-half Cobus Reinach returns to a matchday 23 after being out with an injury for an extended period, and his local input from playing in France will be very useful. The Montpellier man is a try-scoring scrum-half and could have an exciting cameo later on in the Test. He will be eyeing the starting spot going forward, with the Springboks management looking unsure as to who their go-to is in the number nine jersey.

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The article Springboks: Five selection talking points ahead of the France Test including half-backs, the back three and goal-kicking appeared first on Planetrugby.com.