Peripheral Boks keeping up with the Joneses

12 September 2023 - 15:59
By Liam Del Carme in Toulon
Makazole Mapimpi during a Springbok training session at Stade Mayol in Toulon, France last week.
Image: Steve Haag/Gallo Images Makazole Mapimpi during a Springbok training session at Stade Mayol in Toulon, France last week.

Sunday's Rugby World Cup clash against Romania may not be one of the tournament's marquee fixtures, but for several Springboks, particularly in the backline, it will be time to pull off their circus acts.

The match affords the Boks the opportunity to rotate their squad and several peripheral players are likely to get game time.

The Boks are awash with options, particularly in the back division, with interchangeable players making for a potential selection nightmare.

Assistant coach Felix Jones, however, stressed the opposite point. He explained the Bok set-up is a competitive environment and while it doesn't make selection easy, it is a problem they are more than happy to have.

It's competitive and it's a great position to be in, but it also makes it quite difficult,” said Jones from a selection perspective.

He underlined, however, the process needs to be honest and transparent.

“We are as honest as we can be with the players in terms of telling them our plans internally, how we see this game going, why we feel the selection for this game is the right call,” said Jones, who also reminded this needs to take place against the backdrop of managing the minutes and the loads of the players.

André Esterhuizen, fit-again Canan Moodie, scrumhalves Jaden Hendrikse and Cobus Reinach and the waiting-in-the wings Makazole Mapimpi can all state their case this week.

Jones said Esterhuizen is a player who has been closely monitored.

“Not only in the games recently for us, but throughout the season with Harlequins. He's somebody we would have been keeping an eye on for, I think, probably the past two or three years.

I think Canan deserves everything he is now achieving in terms of being selected and of his delivery of what he's doing. The guy is just unbelievably professional.

“He takes care of himself, he keeps his feet on the ground, he does his work. He connects with the guys around him. And it's never with an air of anything but humility,” Jones said about Moodie.

Ordinarily flyhalf Manie Libbok might have been given a breather, but there may be the sentiment for him to recalibrate his kicking radar in the pressures of match-day combat. Should he get a break, Cheslin Kolbe could shift to fullback while Damian Willemse could move to flyhalf.

Faf de Klerk is the third-choice flyhalf in the group.

Jones has seen a significant shift in the Bok attack since the arrival of Libbok.

Manie in particular has been has been brilliant in terms of what he's brought. The way he sees the game,” he said.

“It's been incredibly exciting seeing the emergence of guys like Canan who are competing so greatly with the more experienced campaigners in Cheslin and Makazole. So I think there's still plenty of work to be done, plenty cohesion still to improve on, but generally speaking, confidence is good and they they're working well together.”

It may be the Boks' stated ambition to spread game time across their group but they cannot lose sight of the overall picture. They cannot let up their concentration.

While earning the necessary log points, the Boks will also have to remain cognisant of their points difference in their tightly contested pool. That may yet prove to be the differential between them Ireland and Scotland.

I thought — and I'm trying to say we're a little bit more process-driven — but for sure, points difference in this pool could make a considerable difference to the outcome.”

Jones confirmed the prognosis for Eben Etzebeth's return from a shoulder injury remains 10 days, while the Boks have not heard from the citing commissioner regarding Jesse Kriel's head-on-head tackle on Sunday. They consider the case closed.