Select Edition

Northern Northern
Southern Southern
Global Global

FEATURE The five players the Springboks dare not lose in France

The five players the Springboks dare not lose in France
9 months ago

The Springboks made a statement in the 35-7 win against the All Blacks at Twickenham that will reverberate through to the World Cup. After claiming a record victory in spite of several high-profile absences, they appear ideally placed to perform at the global tournament in France.

The injury-enforced absences of Lukhanyo Am, Handré Pollard, and Lood de Jager have not proved destabilising to their cause. Even without one of their defensive leaders, their first-choice flyhalf and goal-kicker, and their premier lineout manager, they have bagged one of Test rugby’s most-prized scalps.

That said, they will gain more than they lose if they sustain injuries at centre and fly-half over the next few weeks, as Am and Pollard are both in the latter stages of the rehabilitation, and have been placed on standby.

Nevertheless, there are five players who are virtually irreplaceable, as they typically ensure that this Springbok team is more than the sum of its parts:


Rassie Erasmus went out of his way to highlight Le Roux’s contributions as a distributor and organiser at the 2019 World Cup. While the media and public called for Cheslin Kolbe to start at No 15, Erasmus told anyone who would listen that Kolbe and company owed much of their attacking success to the veteran fullback.

In the aftermath of the World Cup final victory over England in Yokohama, Pollard reiterated Erasmus’s point. Le Roux’s ability to identify weaknesses in an opposition attack or defence, Pollard said, was second to none, as was his communication and re-organisation of the Bok formation. Le Roux’s contributions as a secondary playmaker, and the fact that he so often delivered the try-scoring pass further highlighted his value.

Willie le Roux
Le Roux’s importance as the creative second-player maker cannot be underestimated (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

Le Roux has taken his game forward in subsequent seasons. The rise of Damian Willemse as a full-back option, as well as the selection of Manie Libbok, has inspired the veteran to find another gear. He was instrumental to the Boks’ attacking resurgence on the end-of-year tour to Europe last November, and in the more recent World Cup warm-ups.

While there are younger, stronger and faster individual full-back options in the Bok side, there are none who offer more to the collective.


Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber have blooded 17 new players over the past three seasons. The introduction of scrum-half Jaden Hendrikse and No 8 Jasper Wiese to the starting lineup has served to motivate a couple of veterans to dig deep and extend their Test careers to the World Cup.

Faf de Klerk has regained his edge over the past 12 months, while Vermeulen has proved his worth as a leader and individual contributor – particularly in areas such as the breakdown and maul.

The 37 year-old will be managed carefully over the course of the World Cup in France. Going by his recent showings in the Rugby Championship, and by his titanic performance against the All Blacks at Twickenham, he still has the power and the timing to influence big contests.

As the team’s defensive captain, Vermeulen will be tasked with making the calls and marshalling the troops from the back of the ruck – and occasionally clamping onto a loose ball to win a key turnover.


Some critics suggested that the openside flanker didn’t deserve his place in the starting side at the 2019 World Cup, and were made to eat their words when Kolisi rebounded from a knee injury to deliver a series of important ball-carrying and breakdown performances in the playoffs.

He went on to star in the 2021 series against the British and Irish Lions, and was one of the Boks’ most consistent performers across the 2021 and 2022 seasons.

More recently, the Bok captain fought back from another knee injury to feature in the big wins against Wales and New Zealand. He’s clearly lost none of his zip – the offload to Malcolm Marx in Cardiff and the try against the All Blacks in London serving as evidence.

Siya Kolisi
The return of the talismanic Siya Kolisi has given the Springboks a huge lift ahead of the World Cup (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

Some players have the power to lift and inspire those around them, and Kolisi – as well as the others on this list – certainly falls into that category.


Erasmus’ instruction to “f**k them up physically” has often been taken out of context. While the Boks have played with power and aggression over the past six years, they’ve also played with intelligence. No player has embodied the idea of controlled aggression better than Etzebeth.

Often described as the team’s enforcer and their physical talisman, Etzebeth has added more strings to his bow since the 2019 World Cup. His appetite for hard work as well as his determination to influence a contest has seen him deployed as an effective kick-chaser in recent seasons. As witnessed at Twickenham recently, his experience and athletic ability have been invaluable in areas such as the lineout and maul.

The Boks may be spoilt for choice in the second row, but there is only one Eben Etzebeth.


It may seem a contradiction to follow the previous statement with an explanation of why another lock is indispensable – but bear with me.

Snyman is a freak of nature, not just because of his height and size, but because of his agility and rugby intelligence. While he’s unlikely to start the big matches at the World Cup, he will have one of the most important roles to play in the context of South Africa’s game plan – as one of the most explosive members of the Bomb Squad.

The Boks put the rugby world on notice with their display against the All Blacks at Twickenham. The performance of the bench, which included a second front row as well as Munster teammates Jean Kleyn and Snyman, has led some critics to suggest that the South Africans will travel to France with an unfair advantage.

Others have countered this suggestion by pointing out that the ploy of a six-two bench split (seven-on at Twickenham, due to a late injury to Le Roux) is a gamble that doesn’t always pay off. Indeed, the Boks have loaded their bench with six forwards on many occasions over the past two years, but haven’t always secured the desired result.

RG Snyman
RG Snyman has an all-court game that can hurt South Africa’s opponents (Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)

However, it is interesting to note how seldom the Boks stacked their bench with a two locks – and ultimately a second tight five – across the 2021 and 2022 seasons. With Kleyn and Snyman in tow, the Boks will have the luxury of deploying two world-class set piece forwards in the latter stages of a big World Cup match.

Snyman’s inclusion will also enhance the team’s attack, as he has the ability to slot in at first-receiver and deliver those deft tip-on passes that send a teammate through a gap.

The World Cup-winner has endured a nightmare run with injuries over the past four years. The Boks will hope that his luck holds for the next seven weeks, as the Bomb Squad may prove a lot less explosive in his absence.




GARY 284 days ago

my 5 would differ for me Libbok ( as no Pollard) Marx PSTD Kitshoff Etzebeth these guys have made an impression every time they on the field

Snash 287 days ago

i would list Marx ahead of Vermeulen, 7 tough games in 7 weeks for a 37 year-old? Although with the bomb squad he only need manage 40 mins per week! Moodie is going to knock the lights out in this RWC.

Christo 287 days ago

Malcolm Marx makes the most impact next to Etsebeth, both are game changers but the biggest advantage the Boks have is their depth in every position around the park. Their subs could all easily stroll into any other side in the world. Rassie and Nienaber have planned for this all along, that depth with take them far even with the injuries that will almost certainly occur.

Mike 287 days ago

My money is on Canan Moodie to prove to be the player of the tournament. Big, strong, fast and skilled hands. Watch this boy.

Francis 287 days ago

We should call our S.A. Team
All Green&Gold!!!! (rugby Jersey green and gold for springbok and protea!!!!)🤔
Like the word AllBlacks.

G 287 days ago

no Marx?

PETER 287 days ago

No? The cup is. On its return to SUID AFRICA 🙏👍👍👍👍👍👍👋👋👋👋

Ben 287 days ago

RG Snyman to be player of the tournament

Load More Comments

Join free and tell us what you really think!

Sign up for free