In a Rugby World Cup year, things have changed significantly for the better ahead of the Boks’ defence of their title in France in September and October.
Cape Town – At one point in 2022, the Springboks had such a major crisis at flyhalf that Frans Steyn had to wear the No.10 jersey in a Test match.
But in a Rugby World Cup year, things have changed significantly for the better ahead of the Boks’ defence of their title in France in September and October.
Following injuries to Handré Pollard, Elton Jantjies and Damian Willemse, veteran utility back Steyn was called upon for the Rugby Championship clash against Argentina in Durban last September.
It was a difficult outing for the two-time world champion as he battled with his kicking out of hand in particular, and although the Boks won 38-21, coach Jacques Nienaber would have realised that he needed to field a specialist in the pivot position.
— Springboks (@Springboks) February 22, 2023
With Pollard ruled out of the November tour to Europe with yet another knee injury, it was Willemse who stepped up as the first-choice No.10.
Stormers star Manie Libbok came on for his Test debut against France in Marseille, and produced an outstanding performance in a second-half cameo in the 63-21 rout of Italy in Genoa.
Willemse was excellent in the 27-13 victory over England at Twickenham, but his versatility makes him an attractive option at inside centre and fullback as well.
Libbok has been superb for the Stormers over the last few months, and is pushing hard for a World Cup berth.
But at the same time, Pollard and Jantjies have returned to the pitch for Leicester in England and Agen in France respectively, and will look to come up with performances that are hard to ignore ahead of France 2023.
If that happens, it will leave Nienaber with some tough decisions to make when he picks the final 33-man World Cup squad.
He has begun that process with a Bok ‘physical and development camp’ that is taking place in Cape Town currently, where 14 players have been on his watch since Sunday, which will continue until March 10.
The group is made up of captain Siya Kolisi, Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Thomas du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Marvin Orie, Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi, Jaden Hendrikse, Makazole Mapimpi, Canan Moodie, Lukhanyo Am, Kurt-Lee Arendse and Willemse.
Nienaber expressed his delight with his flyhalf options during a press conference at the team hotel in Cape Town on Wednesday.
“When we sat this time last year, it was a big topic of conversation. I think we are fortunate in that regard,” the Bok boss said.
“Due to things that happened and injuries and stuff like that – Handré getting injured earlier last year in the international season – we were forced to go to other routes, which we were always comfortable doing.
“A guy like Damian taking over, or playing flyhalf for us; Frans Steyn was always there and was a guy that can play flyhalf for us …
“So, I think that we’ve got good depth there. If you look at any country, if they go down to their third flyhalf, every country is going to have a drop in quality … you’re lucky if it’s not like that.
“We are probably in a fortunate position now that we’ve got some really quality 10s available for selection.”