October 27, 2021

News24.com | Rugby Championship: Why Euro-based Boks could be like gold

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Eben Etzebeth (Gallo Images)

Eben Etzebeth (Gallo Images)

  • European-stationed Boks playing again soon raises interesting questions over Test plans for later this year.
  • Could South Africa compete in the Rugby Champs even if locally based stars just are not ready enough to do so?
  • In such a scenario, stalwarts abroad like Bismarck du Plessis, Juan de Jongh and Jan Serfontein could earn fresh attention.

Springboks playing in Britain, Ireland and France could have a more pivotal role than is currently realised in South Africa’s possible defence of the Rugby Championship crown later this year.

The considerable number of relevant, international-calibre players – either incumbents or recent enough Boks – have a key edge over our South African- or Japan-based candidates for the Test side: they are about to roar back into action.

South African players in England will return first, in mid-August, when the Premiership finally resumes after the Covid-19 crisis, Irish-based ones a week later, and the French contingent not long after that in the first week of September.

By contrast, an already long-awaited domestic alternative to Super Rugby proper, which was suspended in March, is still several weeks away at the very least due to ongoing, deep coronavirus-related concerns on these shores.

The Japanese Top League, which several other high-profile Boks are loyal to, only springs back into action in the new year.

Bok head coach Jacques Nienaber has already indicated a handful of rounds of first-class matches will be a minimum requirement for suitably readying key Boks physically for Test activity – last seen when the country won the World Cup in Japan late last year.

World Rugby has given its blessing to a full Rugby Championship being held, in one country (highly likely to be New Zealand) from early November if all four competing nations are able to take part by then.

The English and Irish-based Springboks, themselves already lagging dangerously behind All Black and Wallaby candidates for competitive rugby activity, will in turn get a significant head start shortly on South Africa-based players who have only begun cautious “pod” training as things stand.

Fitness permitting, fortunate customers in that category include Vincent Koch (Saracens), Andre Esterhuizen (Harlequins), Lood de Jager and Faf de Klerk (Sale), plus Damian de Allende and RG Snyman (both Munster) and Marcell Coetzee (Ulster).

Slightly more peripheral Boks kicking off at roughly the same time include brothers Dan and Jean-Luc du Preez and Akker van der Merwe, all of Sale.

French-based stars to follow in early September will include Eben Etzebeth, Cheslin Kolbe, Handre Pollard, Rynhardt Elstadt and Cobus Reinach, among others.

That is already a solid tally of Springboks, and if you add in several more “fringe” candidates also employed in the broad landscape of Europe it begs the question of whether SA Rugby – desperate for a variety of reasons to see the Webb Ellis Cup-holders return to Test combat – could, in a worst-case scenario locally, contemplate picking a Bok squad deliberately heavily weighted towards players employed elsewhere (and importantly match-ready).

Yes, what if a local competition simply cannot take root in suitable time ahead of a Rugby Championship defence, leaving all home-based players too ill-prepared to be catapulted to Test activity?

There are so many high-calibre South African players plying their trades in Europe that, even if it will be a stretch in certain positions, the country could – as a last resort in being able to take part – just about assemble a squad made up almost wholly of stars falling into that category.

As it is, six of the players already listed above were all starters in the 2019 World Cup final against England, and several others either among the impactful “Bomb Squad” substitutes or at least part of prior mastermind Rassie Erasmus’ wider plans in the Test season leading up to the Rugby World Cup.

Intriguingly, there are further, already highly Test-proven players who could be freshly roped in after longish absences – depending on availability, in some instances – if the Bok brains trust suddenly needed them.

Into that category might fall the grunt-laden 36-year-old hooker Bismarck du Plessis, still on Montpellier’s books and holder of 79 Bok caps up to 2015, Jan Serfontein of the same French club (35 caps), Juan de Jongh of Wasps (19 caps) and Worcester’s Francois Hougaard (46 caps).

Remember that emerging, already thoroughly Test-blooded tighthead prop Wilco Louw recently joined Harlequins from the Stormers, while rugby enthusiasts countrywide will probably be able to pipe up with several other now Euro-based names who could become renewed or even first-time contenders for the national side.

Issues would swirl around club release factors, the pure legitimacy or validity of a virtually all European-based Bok team, and whether it subscribed sufficiently to transformation requirements.

But these are also strange, unorthodox and sometimes necessarily improvisational, think-out-of-the-box times.

If it came to that, might a profoundly Euro-heavy Bok XV be better than no Bok team at all in 2020?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing



This post originally appeared on and written by:
Rob Houwing,amp; Sport24 chief writer
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