Twenty-six of the 33 Springboks who won the last Rugby World Cup in Japan four years ago are contenders for places in the next edition in France, starting on September 8. And at least 24 of the survivors are likely to be included in the 2023 squad, which will be named at a TV studio in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
The unlucky two could be scrum-halves Herschel Jantjies and Cobus Reinach, the second and third choices behind Faf de Klerk at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
“We have given 38 players opportunities to play in four games and it is going to be a very difficult squad selection meeting,” admits South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber.
There are 42 contenders for the places, but inspirational captain and flanker Siya Kolisi, star fly-half Handre Pollard and prop Ox Nche have not played this season due to injuries.
A Springbok insider told AFP Kolisi is “looking good” for warm-up matches against Wales in Cardiff on August 19 and New Zealand in London six days later.
Pollard, who kicked 22 points in the last final, is training alone as he recovers from a calf injury and his chances of facing the Welsh are “no more than 50 percent”. Scrum-half Jaden Hendrikse, whose father died recently, also missed the three Rugby Championship matches and a warm-up Test in Argentina at the weekend.
Seeking a record fourth World Cup title, South Africa are in Pool B with Ireland, currently the top-ranked Test team, Scotland, Romania and Tonga.
Should South Africa and Ireland occupy the top two places in the final standings, they will face the winners and runners-up from Pool A, almost certainly France and New Zealand.
AFP Sport looks at some of the tough decisions facing Nienaber and national director of rugby Rassie Erasmus, the mastermind behind the 2019 World Cup triumph. Outstanding performances by wings Canan Moodie and Makazole Mapimpi in a 24-13 victory in Buenos Aires mean it will be difficult to omit either the rising star or the veteran.
Should both get the nod, the loser is likely to be centre Andre Esterhuizen, as he comes fourth in the pecking order behind 2019 pair Lukhanyo Am and Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel.
However, there are concerns about Am, who went off at half-time in Argentina, with the team doctor saying “he cannot continue” due to a knee injury. Barring injury, De Klerk will be a certain starter against Scotland when South Africa launch their pool campaign in Marseille on September 10.
But pundits cannot agree on which two from Hendrikse, Jantjies, Reinach and Grant Williams should be the back-ups. Jantjies and Reinach have previous World Cup experience, but dynamic Williams, assuming he recovers from concussion, and smart box-kicker Hendrikse are strong rivals.
Malcolm Marx and Bongi Mbonambi are sure to be selected, with one starting and the other coming off the bench in the five major matches South Africa could face.
But will specialist hooker Joseph Dweba or flanker and former hooker Deon Fourie be the third choice? Both know France well having played for Bordeaux and Lyon and Grenoble respectively.
In 2019, the Springboks favoured versatility with back-row forward Schalk Brits the third choice hooker as he had previously played there. Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager, the 2019 World Cup final starters, and RG Snyman, a substitute in the Yokohama title decider, are set for France.
Given that likely back-row choices Pieter-Steph du Toit and Franco Mostert can also play in the second row, only one other lock is expected to be selected.
That will be a straight contest between Marvin Orie and Johannesburg-born Jean Kleyn, who qualified for Ireland through residency and won five caps before switching allegiance this year. The most congested sector with 10 contenders for three starting places, filled by Kolisi, Du Toit and Duane Vermeulen in Japan when the first choice line-up was chosen.
If the skipper comes through warm-ups against Wales and or New Zealand unscathed, the same threesome should start against the Scots.
Mostert, Kwagga Smith, Jasper Wiese and possibly Fourie may also be named at the expense of Jean-Luc du Preez, Evan Roos and Marco van Staden.
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