Bok Class of '21 a cut above
Team to play the Wallabies closely resembles the world beaters of 2019
The Springboks have assembled a starting team for Sunday's Rugby Championship match against Australia that features 12 players who lined up for kickoff in the last Rugby World Cup (RWC) final.
That, in many observers' opinion, makes them clear favourites to beat a team that is in transition and is still being moulded into the vision of coach Dave Rennie.
That RWC success was followed this year with a series win over the British & Irish Lions which helped stretch the Boks' recent playing record to 11 wins from their last 12 starts.
Although those performance indicators firmly point in the Springboks' favour, their prospects are a little tempered by the Wallabies' recent record against the Green and Gold in Australia.
The Boks haven't won in Australia since 2013 but have not played there since 2018. On that occasion the Wallabies edged the visitors 23-18 in Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber's seventh Test since taking charge of the Boks.
Although the core of the side that lost that day remains, can the Boks of 2018 be compared with the Class of '21?
From then we implemented a new defence system in 2018Bok coach Jacques Nienaber
Pieter-Steph du Toit, Warren Whiteley, Elton Jantjies, Jesse Kriel and Aphiwe Dyantyi started that Test but the biggest shift in the intervening period is that the Boks have clearly developed champion qualities. They know how to win games by playing to their strengths and they tend to come to grips with pressure moments better than their opponents.
“From then we implemented a new defence system in 2018,” recalled Bok coach Jacques Nienaber. “We were developing a new playing style and we were finding our feet. This is a lot more settled and aligned squad.
“We have been together for a quite a while now and we are a lot more aligned. We were also fortunate that after 2019 we lost only three players. There is good continuity.”
One of the players Nienaber mentioned who helps provide continuity in the event of injury is wing S'bu Nkosi. He is back in the starting team as Cheslin Kolbe has not recovered from the knock to the leg he suffered in training last Friday.
There are significant changes for the better in the form of No 8 Duane Vermeulen returning for his first Test since the last RWC final, as well as Faf de Klerk at scrumhalf.
They don't just bring experience but an innate understanding of how the Boks operate. They tap into the pulse and rhythm of the game, which is something the Boks are hoping to deny the Wallabies.
“Australia play with pace and tempo,” said Nienaber in explaining the presence of three loose forwards, Marco van Staden, Kwagga Smith and Jasper Wiese on the Bok bench. “They have massive continuity and have an awesome skill set in stretching you from touchline to touchline. It is going to be a quick, high tempo game.”
When it is time to jump, they jumpBok lock Eben Etzebeth on colleagues Lood de Jager and Franco Mostert
With Franco Mostert in the starting line-up at flank the Boks have also extended their line-out options. It is a source of great comfort for the experienced Eben Etzebeth. “Lood (de Jager) and Franco figure out all the plans in the week and when it is time to jump, they jump. It is great to have lots of options,” said Etzebeth.
Line-outs apart, Mostert will serve as the perfect antidote to the Wallabies, who are hoping to free range as much as they can. He is capable of reaching and delivering impact at the extremities of the field.
The deployment of the Bomb Squad means the Boks will continue to stay true to a blueprint on which the ink has long dried.
Springboks – Willie le Roux; S'bu Nkosi; Lukhanyo Am; Damian de Allende; Makazole Mapimpi; Handré Pollard; Faf de Klerk; Duane Vermeulen; Franco Mostert; Siya Kolisi (captain); Lood de Jager; Eben Etzebeth; Frans Malherbe; Bongi Mbonambi; Steven Kitshoff. Substitutes: Malcolm Marx; Ox Nché; Vincent Koch; Marco van Staden; Kwagga Smith; Jasper Wiese; Herschel Jantjies; Damian Willemse.