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Rugby World Cup 2023 Team Review: South Africa

Rugby World Cup 2023 Team Review: South Africa - Absolute Rugby

Matthew Buckland |

In just a couple of months’ time, South Africa will look to become the second team to defend their Rugby World Cup title. It is going to be a tall order for the Springboks and let’s take a look at how they can do it.

South Africa heading into the tournament

The defending world champions have had a very up and down time since beating England in the final four years ago. There have been plenty of bright moments for this team since. The world champions faced a massive test two years ago when the British and Irish Lions toured South Africa.

Having lost the first test, to the Lions, they comfortably beat them in the second before Francois Steyn hit another last minute winning penalty over the Lions to secure the series victory. It was a brilliant performance from South Africa, especially as they did not really have a home advantage considering the games were in empty stadiums.

A year later, South Africa scraped past Wales in a test series, although it probably should have been a lot easier than it was for the Springboks. South Africa have also beaten New Zealand at home over the last two years in the Rugby Championship and face an incredibly difficult test against the All Blacks in New Zealand this year.

In the last 12 months alone, South Africa have beaten Australia and Argentina twice, New Zealand, Wales , Italy and England. Their domestic sides have also been excellent over the last two years in particular, with an all-South African 2022 URC Final being the perfect debut season for those teams.

Their big two teams did fall in the Champions Cup quarter-finals this season, as well as the Stormers losing to Munster in the URC final this year. But still, South African teams have fit into European competition very well and will be challengers in both domestic rugby and European rugby for years to come.

But it is not all positive for South Africa. South Africa have struggled in a lot of games that should have been easy for them over the last few years. In just the last two years, South Africa have losses to Ireland, France, Australia, New Zealand, Wales and England.

The losses to the world’s top two teams were incredibly close games, but South Africa can’t afford close losses in the world cup. This Springboks team might have the most talented squad in international rugby, but have not always been able to put it together over the last few years.

They will head into the tournament with one of the hardest warm up campaigns, partly down to the Rugby Championship. But considering the Springboks are going to face New Zealand twice as well as Argentina, Australia and Wales before the tournament, they should be well prepared.

South Africa’s team for the tournament

South Africa have an extremely consistent team and we could even see them start with 14 of the 15 players who started the Rugby World Cup final four years ago in Yokohama. There is really one main concern about this team and it is the health of World Cup winning Fly-Half Handre Pollard.

World Cup winning captain Siya Kolisi is also facing a battle with time to be healthy for this tournament, having gone down with a serious knee injury while playing for the Sharks.

The front row for the Springboks is difficult to choose because they have nine world class front row options. They have also been known to put some of their stronger player’s on the bench to be part of the bomb squad. So this predicted front row could be completely different.

Eben Etzebeth’s partner is another difficult player to pick, with Lood de Jager seemingly the favourite. But Munster duo Jean Kleyn and RG Snyman will try their best to get into the team at the expense of De Jager. Things don’t get much easier to pick in the back row of the Springboks.

With Siya Kolisi’s health unknown, It is probably a bit safer to say that South Africa will go for Kwagga Smith at 6, although they could alternatively look at Jean-Luc du Preez or Evan Roos, although either of these player’s would be playing out of position.

It is also difficult to pick who will be the Number 8 for South Africa at this tournament. Duane Vermeulen has not kept his place consistently and Jasper Wiese is in much better form with his domestic side. This forward pack is not easy to pick at all, mainly because of the depth of this South African team.

The backs are a whole lot easier to pick, with Faf de Klerk extremely likely to keep his place in the team. Youngster Jaden Hendrikse is pushing for this place, but I think in the big games the Springboks will go with their World Cup winning experience.

As long as Handre Pollard is healthy, he will be the starter for this team just as he was four years ago. Their world cup winning centre partnership is extremely unlikely to be broken. This is the same story for the team’s wingers, although Kurt-Lee Arendse has started his South African career in incredible try scoring form.

With Damian Willemse likely to act as deputy for both Fly-Half and Full-Back, Willie le Roux’s place in the team seems to be pretty set. 

1.Steven Kitshoff- Stormers

2.Malcolm Marx- Kubota Spears

3.Frans Malherbe- Stormers

4.Eben Etzebeth- Sharks

5.Lood de Jager- Saitama Wild Knights

6.Kwagga Smith- Shizuoka Blue Revs

7.Pieter-Steph du Toit- Toyota Verblitz

8.Jasper Wiese- Leicester Tigers

9.Faf de Klerk- Yokohama Canon Eagles

10.Handre Pollard- Leicester Tigers

11.Makazole Mapimpi- Sharks

12.Damian de Allende- Saitama Wild Knights

13.Lukhanyo Am- Sharks

14.Cheslin Kolbe- Toulon

15.Willie le Roux- Toyota Verblitz


South Africa’s road to victory

The Springboks are certainly on the wrong side of the draw for them. Their group pits them against the number one team in the world which is going to be one of the best games of the entire tournament. These two teams have only played once in the last five years, with Ireland just barely holding off the Springboks in 2022.

Considering neither team is going to have home advantage it is going to be a brilliant game. Their remaining World Cup games will not be particularly easy. Scotland and Tonga are both in great form heading into this competition, so South Africa’s depth will be massively important to them finishing top of the pool stage.

Scotland are the number 5 ranked team in the world, while Tonga have some of the most exciting rugby player’s in the world. Both of these teams will be desperate to cause an upset, so South Africa’s excellent depth is really going to be tested in the pool stage.

South Africa could face either New Zealand or France in the quarter-final stage. The Springboks will want to make sure they top their group otherwise they have to face France in front of the roaring French crowd in the quarter-finals.

The Springboks recent demolition of Australia could be massive when we reach the semi-final stage as Australia are the most likely team that they are going to face. South Africa can run through Australia with their far superior forward pack.

South Africa need to use their physical dominance because France are likely the only team who are able to match up to them, with Ireland likely able to give South Africa an excellent game.

Can South Africa win the World Cup?

Simply put, South Africa certainly have a great chance of winning the Rugby World Cup. There are many different reasons why the Springboks can win the world cup.

This team’s major advantage over any other is that they have depth better than any other rugby team in the world. With nine world-class front row options, the Springboks can rotate throughout the tournament, even when they get into the knockout stages.

It is not just the front row where there is depth. Guys like Evan Roos, Damian Willemse, Andre Esterhuizen, RG Snyman, Canan Moodie and Franco Mostert will have a big impact on this World Cup campaign despite not being starters.

But those starters will still be the stars of this South African team. The Springboks have the most powerful pack in the world and they need to use it. This team can push through the defensive line of any other team. They also need to be able to shift the ball wide.

South Africa have electric wingers who will cause nightmares for the opposition. As long as they use all of the attacking options, the Springboks have a massive chance to win the Rugby World Cup once again.

One thing that is crucial is that they need to beat Ireland in the group stage. While they could still advance to the quarter-final stage with a loss, meeting France in that stage is the most difficult match-up in the tournament.

South Africa should look to avoid France until the final as even if they beat France, they would become the villains of the tournament and things would get a lot more difficult. But I still believe that South Africa have a great chance at defending their Rugby World Cup title.

South Africa’s chances of winning the tournament: Losing Finalist

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