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Nienaber names youth and experience in exciting RWC squad

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Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber named 21 players with Rugby World Cup experience (nine of whom will be appearing at their third RWC tournament) when he revealed the defending champion’s squad of 33 players for the 2023 edition in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

Nienaber’s squad featured a strong mix of experience and some of the best up-and-coming young players in the country, while there was disappointment for three of the starting XV from the 32-12 victory over England in Japan four years ago, who were ruled out by injury and illness.

Flyhalf Handre Pollard (calf), Lukhanyo Am (knee) and Lood de Jager (chest problem) have been placed on standby with six other players. The Springbok coaches were hopeful that they may return to full training before the start of the tournament and be available for call-up in the event of injury.

Meanwhile props Frans Malherbe and Trevor Nyakane, lock Eben Etzebeth, loose forwards Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi, Duane Vermeulen, centres Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel and fullback Willie le Roux will feature in their third World Cup tournaments and are among a large group of players who were members of the 2019 Rugby World Cup-winning squad.

Also returning from 2019 are Steven Kitshoff and Vincent Koch (props), Bongi Mbonambi and Malcolm Marx (hookers), RG Snyman (lock), Kwagga Smith, (loose forward), Franco Mostert (utility forward), Faf de Klerk and Cobus Reinach (scrumhalves), Damian Willemse (utility back), Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi (wings).

Making their first appearance at a Rugby World Cup are Ox Nche (prop), Jean Kleyn and Marvin Orie (locks), Marco van Staden and Jasper Wiese (loose forwards), Deon Fourie (utility forward), Jaden Hendrikse and Grant Williams (scrumhalves), Manie Libbok (flyhalf), Andre Esterhuizen (centre), Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie (outside backs).

The squad comprises 19 forwards and 14 backline players.

“This was one of the hardest selections we have ever had to make,” said Nienaber.

“Any of the 42-man training squad would do a great job but injuries have played a part in the final selection and time unfortunately ran out for some real champions.

“However, we said from the outset that we wanted to name the best 33 players for the World Cup, and after giving 38 players a run in the last four Tests we are pleased with the make-up of the group, and we know we have proper depth in each position.

“We’ve picked a squad with a bunch of the players who can also cover alternative positions, which we’ll need in a very tough World Cup.

“We were in a great position this year to have so many players knocking on the door for selection but unfortunately, we could only select 33. Injuries have had a hand in the final selection, but they are part of the game, and we are excited about the quality of the players who can step in and perform at World Cup level – as many of the players who featured against Argentina showed last weekend.”

Nienaber also announced that nine players would be placed on standby – five of whom will travel with the team to Cardiff and London for their last two RWC warm-up matches against Wales (19 August) and New Zealand (25 August).

The nine players are Am (centre), De Jager (lock), Jean-Luc du Preez (utility forward), Thomas du Toit (prop), Joseph Dweba (hooker), Herschel Jantjies (scrumhalf), Pollard (flyhalf), Evan Roos (No 8) and Gerhard Steenekamp (prop). The five travelling to the UK on Saturday are Du Toit, Du Preez, Dweba, Pollard and Am.

Nienaber said: “Since Rassie (Erasmus – SA Rugby Director of Rugby) and I returned to South Africa in 2018 we’ve been building to the 2023 World Cup, and we are pleased with where we are, going into this World Cup.

“The coaches and players have put in a helluva lot work in the last few years, and we have the luxury of naming a squad that features a big group of players who know what it takes to win a World Cup and who will enter the tournament with vast international experience.

“The younger players have also showed in the last two seasons that they can match some of the top players in the world, so we believe we are better prepared as a team going into this tournament.

“We still have two warm-up games left and a road to travel to build player combinations and fine tune the areas of our game that we feel we need to improve on, so we are by no means the final product at this stage.”

Kolisi, who is expected to be back in action against Wales in two weeks, will captain the Springbok team for the second time at the Rugby World Cup when they take the field in France. Nche and Hendrikse – who have not appeared for the Boks in the past four matches – are also expected to return in the final two warm-up matches.

Am suffered a knee injury in the team’s 24-13 victory against Argentina in Buenos Aires and is expected to be out of action for four weeks, while De Jager is undergoing specialist evaluation for a chest problem. Pollard, meanwhile, has been on the sidelines with a calf injury since joining the team in June and will continue to work with the Bok medical team to return to full fitness.

South Africa will launch their Rugby World Cup title defence on Sunday, 10 September, against Scotland in Marseille, which will be followed by pool matches against Romania in Bordeaux (17 September), Ireland in Paris (23 September) and Tonga in Marseille (1 October).

The Rugby World Cup quarter-finals will be played on the weekend of 14/15 October, with the semi-finals on 20/21 October and the final on Saturday, 28 October.

Springbok Rugby World Cup squad:

Forwards:

Props: Steven Kitshoff (Ulster – 74 caps, 10 points), Vincent Koch (Cell C Sharks – 45 caps, 0 points), Frans Malherbe (DHL Stormers – 61 caps, 5 points), Ox Nche (Cell C Sharks – 19 caps, 0 points), Trevor Nyakane (Racing 92 – 61 caps, 5 points).

Hookers: Bongi Mbonambi (Cell C Sharks – 60 caps, 60 points), Malcolm Marx (Kubota Spears – 61 caps, 75 points).

Locks: Eben Etzebeth (Cell C Sharks – 112 caps, 25 points), Jean Kleyn (Munster – 2 caps, 0 points), Marvin Orie (Perpignan – 14 caps, 0 points), RG Snyman (Munster – 26 caps, 5 points).

Loose Forwards: Pieter-Steph du Toit (Toyota Verblitz – 69 caps, 30 points), Siya Kolisi (captain – Racing 92 – 75 caps, 45 points), Kwagga Smith (Shizuoka Blue Revs – 33 caps, 25 points), Marco van Staden (Vodacom Bulls – 12 caps, 0 points), Duane Vermeulen (SA Rugby – 68 caps, 15 points), Jasper Wiese (Leicester – 22 caps, 5 points).

Utility Forwards: Deon Fourie (DHL Stormers – 7 caps, 0 points), Franco Mostert (Honda Heat – 65 caps, 15 points).

Backs:

Scrumhalves: Faf de Klerk (Canon Eagles – 48 caps, 44 points), Jaden Hendrikse (Cell C Sharks – 12 caps, 12 points), Cobus Reinach (Montpelllier – 25 caps, 45 points), Grant Williams (Cell C Sharks – 4 caps, 0 points).

Flyhalves: Manie Libbok (DHL Stormers – 7 caps, 45 points), Damian Willemse (DHL Stormers – 31 caps, 36 points).

Centres: Damian de Allende (Panasonic Wild Knights – 72 caps, 50 points), Andre Esterhuizen (Harlequins – 13 caps, 0 points), Jesse Kriel (Canon Eagles – 61 caps, 60 points).

Outside Backs: Kurt-Lee Arendse (Vodacom Bulls – 9 caps, 50 points), Cheslin Kolbe (Suntory Sungoliath – 25 caps, 81 points), Willie le Roux (Vodacom Bulls – 86 caps, 65 points), Makazole Mapimpi (Cell C Sharks – 38 caps, 115 points), Canan Moodie (Vodacom Bulls – 6 caps, 10 points).

[Submitted by Kevin Rademeyer]

Tags: Springboks

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