Springboks

The Boks headed for their Test sunsets

2018-12-11 16:16
Tendai Mtawarira
Tendai Mtawarira (Gallo)

Cape Town – Perish the thought that the Springboks only play eight Test matches in 2019.

That would mean, bearing in mind confirmation of their roster for the calendar year earlier this week, that they have failed for the first time in World Cup history to advance from the group phase of RWC 2019 in Japan.

Most Bok supporters would infinitely prefer the “brighter side” scenario: Siya Kolisi’s charges instead play seven matches at the premier global event, by going all the way to the final, and thus a total of 11 Tests for the year.

SA Rugby revealed on Monday the dates and venues of the pre-World Cup programme for the Boks, involving a single round of three Rugby Championship Tests, plus an additional match (outside the Championship, but with Test status) against Argentina at Loftus on August 17.

With two of the Championship fixtures away (New Zealand and Argentina), the Boks have only two home clashes in 2019: against the Wallabies at Emirates Airline Park on July 20, plus the extra Test against the Pumas.

Considering that they played as many as 14 Tests in head coach Rassie Erasmus’s maiden season in charge in 2018, the Boks play considerably fewer matches next year, even if they go all the way at the World Cup.

So the roster is a reminder that the curtain is coming down with increasing speed on the international careers of several stalwarts in their ranks, some of whom may play only a single-figure tally of additional Test matches from this point before hanging up their boots at national and perhaps all levels.

Happily for the Boks, the strong majority of their current resources are players with at least one further World Cup (2023, in France) still in them after the Japan-staged one has been completed.

There will be some borderline customers for France, perhaps, like Willie le Roux, the fullback/wing playmaker who is 29 now and would be 34 by the time CWC 2023 comes along – not necessarily out of the picture by then, but possibly so.

The same applies to someone like Coenie Oosthuizen, also 29.

But here is a quartet of stalwart Boks, all of them part of present plans, for whom the sands of time are much likelier to run out international-wise at the end of the critical 2019 year unless some have Victor Matfield-like plans (he stepped down from Bok duty at the rare age of 38) for top-flight longevity:

Tendai Mtawarira (107 caps)

Current age: 33

Age at RWC 2019: 34

Would be at RWC 2023: 38

The long-time Sharks favourite has a third, and almost certainly final, stab at the World Cup next year. He may need a decent Super Rugby campaign first, just to confirm his onward international ticket, although his vast experience will be an asset in Japan. Missing through injury from the Bok end-of-year tour, the trusty loose-head prop should enter 2019 refreshed, although Steven Kitshoff has been making sterling strides in his absence and may now be the proverbial main man for the No 1 jersey. Expect “Beast” to have other ideas, of course.

Francois Louw (65 caps)

Current age: 33

Age at RWC 2019: 34

Would be at RWC 2023: 38

Another who is getting long in the tooth, the Bath-based open-side flanker and sometimes No 8 nevertheless reminded during three sprightly appearances off the bench on the Boks’ recent European tour that he still adds value to their loosie arsenal. Again, his global street wisdom would come in useful at RWC 2019, especially as he remains a wily, powerful stealer on the deck. But any further green and gold activity for him, into 2020, seems unlikely so the next year or so really represents his big, last Bok push.

Duane Vermeulen (46 caps)

Current age: 32

Age at RWC 2019: 33

Would be at RWC 2023: 37

Perhaps the robust, now Bulls-based No 8’s natural competitiveness will drive him unexpectedly further in Bok terms, especially as he began his Test career unjustly late for a player of his quality and value – he should achieve his 50th cap just ahead of or in the early phases of the World Cup. But his uncompromising, hard-yards style of player (so vital in the home series triumph over England earlier in 2018) must also take a toll on his body, and there appears a better than even chance “Thor” will call it quits Test-wise after RWC 2019, aged 33.

Warren Whiteley (23 caps)

Current age: 31

Age at RWC 2019: 32

Would be at RWC 2023: 36

Now likely to be primarily the back-up No 8 in the Bok camp, considering Vermeulen’s generally impressive return to duty this year, Whiteley’s more subtle style of play offers a good foil in the berth – and there is always still the chance of Vermeulen operating at No 7 if the need arises, remember. But the popular Lions captain, part of the national team’s leadership intelligentsia, has had his fair share of injury setbacks and may be undecided at this point as to whether he wishes to continue being available for the Boks after the World Cup.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  rassie erasmus  |  siya kolisi  |  rugby

 

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