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Rassie sticks with trusted men

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The squad includes three players who’ll feature at their third tournament.

Rassie Erasmus, coach of South Africa during the 2019 Springbok Squad Announcement at Ulwazi Centre MultiChoice City, Johannesburg, on Monday. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus said he has selected the best 31 players he could have picked to represent South Africa at the Rugby World Cup, starting later next month.

The squad includes three players who’ll feature at their third tournament – Beast Mtwarira, Francois Louw and Frans Steyn, and 13 who’ll be back for their second attempt at the title. Utility back Steyn is the only player in the squad who has won a World Cup.

He was 19 years old when he played for John Smit’s team, under the guidance of Jake White, in France 2007.

Steyn only returned to the team this season but will go to Japan having not started a Test under Erasmus. He played only from off the bench in his Test appearances this season.

Erasmus said Steyn’s experience and his knowledge of playing in a World Cup winning team made him shoo-in for selection.

“Frans was always going to go to the World Cup. Ever since I spoke to him last year (while playing in France) I could see he was committed. He just couldn’t play last years because of club technicalities and because of family reasons, but I knew I wanted him in my squad,” said Erasmus when he named his 31-man group yesterday.

“Only an injury was going to prevent him from being in the squad.

“I’ve coached him before and I know what we’ve got in him. He’s the only player here who’s won a World Cup and he’s got tons of experience he covers 10, 12, 15 and even 13.”

As expected, there were no surprises in the group. Kwagga Smith beat out Rynhardt Elstadt for the final loose-forward position, with Erasmus explaining the now France-based player was viewed mainly as a back-up in case Siya Kolisi never recovered from his injury.

Kolisi though showed against Argentina in the Farewell Test he is ready to play and captain the side in Japan.

“It was a tough call at loose-forward, but Rynhardt was a back-up for Siya, who was under an injury cloud,” explained Erasmus. “I believe we’ve picked the best five loose-forwards we could have.

“Kwagga put his hand up in Super Rugby, he played consistently well at six and eight, and that against the best from Australia, New Zealand and Argentina. His form got him selected and now that I’ve coached him for a longer period (than last year when Smith played only against Wales in Washington) I see he is also a great team man.”

The squad is a good blend of youth and experience with several young rising stars set to bring plenty of energy to the squad. Here one thinks of Herschel Jantjies, S’bu Nkosi, Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe.

“This is the best 31 I could have picked,” said Erasmus. “These are the fit, available, and in-form players.”

While Erasmus has been involved with other World Cup teams, mainly as a consultant, he said going to Japan as the team leader was a highlight. He added he, too, like Kolisi, was nervous.

“It’s massive for me. I was nervous today (with the squad announcement). We carry a great responsibility and there are expectations. This, being head coach of the Boks, doesn’t come around a lot. I hope we can make the nation proud by the way that we play.”

The Boks will arrive in Japan on Saturday, a full three weeks before their first game of the tournament against New Zealand. They will, however, have one last warm-up outing, against Japan, on September 7.

Erasmus said getting acclimatised in Japan would be crucial. “The reason why we’re going over early is to get used to the heat we want to train in the heat, and play in it (against Japan) and hopefully the spin-off is we’re used to the condition quicker than any other team.”

Jacques van der Westhuyzen