Lions and Masuku rewarded as Rassie looks to the future

rugby09 June 2024 07:00
By:Gavin Rich
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Siya Masuku © Getty Images

With the first match of the international season against Wales now less than two weeks away and set to be played when several top players who will feature later will be unavailable there was always going to be a youthful element to Rassie Erasmus’ first Springbok selection.

However, seeing it on paper nonetheless should be heartwarming to rugby fans who have been following the local teams in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship and the two EPCR competitions, for both form and promise has been rewarded.

For instance, while acknowledging that the injury to Damian Willemse that sees him omitted from the group of 34 that was announced in the early hours of Sunday morning means there is a gap in the fullback complement that will be closed off later, there’s a well merited call up for the Emirates Lions No 15 Quan Horn.

The fullback is joined in the team by two other uncapped teammates from the Lions, with wing Edwill van der Merwe and scrumhalf Morne van der Berg rightly being rewarded for the form they have showed in a much improved Lions effort in 2023/24, while Hollywoodbets Sharks bound Jordan Hendrikse, brother of Sharks scrumhalf Jaden, is also in the group.

Hendrikse would have persuaded Erasmus with the fine form he showed in the last two games of the Lions season, and the utility value he showed when switched from his usual flyhalf position to inside centre would certainly have helped his cause.


Not that Hendrikse is the only young flyhalf with utility value included, although given his pedigree and the expectations around him, the call up of Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, who has been included in a Bok tour group before and has played for South Africa A, was hardly surprising. The DHL Stormers might well have won their URC quarterfinal against Glasgow Warriors on Saturday night had Feinberg-Mngomezulu’s reliable goalkicking been backed once it was clear Manie Libbok was having one of his off nights from the tee.

There will be a lot of positive comment around the selection of Siya Masuku, the new Hollywoodbets Sharks flyhalf who played such a pivotal role in getting his team to the EPCR Challenge Cup trophy. Given that Feinberg-Mgomezulu is primarily a flyhalf, there is certainly plenty of depth to the Bok flyhalf resources suddenly.

Libbok is still relatively young as an international player but he is now established as a Springbok and is also in the group, with World Cup winning flyhalf Handre Pollard of Leicester Tigers and Harlequins’ Andre Esterhuizen being included in the group even though they will not be available for the Wales game at Twickenham because it falls outside the international window.

No 8 Jasper Wiese, out for the first part of the season as he serves out a suspension incurred playing for Leicester, exceptions to the rule that players based in the UK, Ireland and Europe were not considered for this game. Erasmus explained that Wiese will be allowed to train with the Boks in the meantime. He will be available to play in matches from August.

But those players were expected selections if available, it is the new players joining them that generate such excitement, with Feinberg-Mgomezulu being joined by fellow uncapped Stormers Ben-Jason Dixon, Neethling Fouche and Andre-Hugo Venter. There are two Stormers hookers in the squad that will go into camp in Pretoria on Monday, with the already capped Bok Joseph Dweba also among the 35.


From a Sharks viewpoint, young centre Ethan Hooker hasn’t played much so Erasmus clearly sees a lot of potential in him as he is among the newcomers, as is the Sharks’ former national age-group captain Phepsi Buthelezi. Hooker only made his Sharks debut a few months ago so he is on a sharp upward curve in his career.

Apart from players based in Europe, the UK and Ireland, players from the Vodacom Bulls, who are still in contention in the URC and will be playing a semifinal against Leinster at the weekend, were also not considered for the squad.

However players plying their trade in Japan were, and in that regard it is noted that big Lood de Jager, who missed the World Cup in France last year because of injury, is still on the indisposed list. Other top players out injured apart from De Jager and the Stormers’ Willemse are Steven Kitshoff and Jaden Hendrikse.


Evan Roos was sorely missed in their semifinal loss to Glasgow, where they were trailing by three points heading into the last six minutes but conceded two late tries in chasing the game and lost 27-10, is in the group because the concussion that forced him to withdraw from the game is light. Had the Stormers advanced, he would have been available to play in a semifinal.

Kwagga Smith, one of the more experienced Bok loose-forwards now, is in the group so his injury problems are over, and it will be interesting to see which of he or Roos will be selected at No 8 in the absence of Wiese from selection consideration.

Erasmus is largely sticking to the plan he had formulated back in February, because Hooker and Lions wing Van der Merwe are the only players called up who were not part of the alignment camps in March and May.


The squad includes 19 forwards and 16 backs. It needs to be noted that it is a large group, so only a few of the the uncapped players will actually take the step up to becoming fully fledged Springboks by winning caps against Wales and in the incoming tour season that follows in the form of the eagerly awaited two test matches against Ireland and one against Portugal. You’d imagine that last mentioned game in Bloemfontein could see a liberal sprinkling of newcomers.

As Erasmus pointed out, the group does feature a good mix of experience and youth. It confirms too that the Boks will need a new captain for the Wales game as World Cup winning skipper Siya Kolisi is one of the overseas based players (he’s playing in France) who could not be considered.

“We selected a group of players featuring a good mix of youth and experience, and in terms of the young players especially, we believe they have the potential to make the step-up to top international rugby,” said Erasmus.

“We’ve been following all their performances closely, we had the luxury of presenting our plans to them and getting to know them as individuals off the field at the alignment camps, and we are pleased with the enthusiasm they showed and willingness to learn.

“With the players based in Europe, the UK and Ireland not available for Wales, we anticipate that there will be a few players making their test debuts in that match, but even for those who do not make the cut, having them in camp and getting the chance to work closely with them on the field will set them and the team in good stead as we prepare for this season and start laying the foundation for the 2027 World Cup in Australia.”


Erasmus added: “We gained immense value by granting a few players a chance to prove what they can do at international level in the last few years leading up to the 2023 World Cup. Some of the players who made their test debuts in that time were members of the squad that lifted the trophy in Paris, and we feel it is important that we continue blooding new players as we build toward the future.

“As things stand, we have a bunch of young players that already have test experience and who know exactly how we operate as a team and what is expected of them at this level, and we have no doubt that we will reap the rewards in the years to come as we continue to increase our squad depth.

“As always there are a few unlucky players who missed out on selection this time, but the door will always be open for them to be called up if the need arises,” he added.

The Wales test will be followed by the Castle Lager Incoming Series which features back-to-back tests against Ireland (ranked second in the world) in Pretoria and Durban respectively (on 6 and 13 July) and a historic first test against Portugal in Bloemfontein on 20 July.

The Springboks will then turn their attention to the Castle Lager Rugby Championship where they will line up against Australia in Brisbane and Perth (on 10 and 17 August) before facing arch-rivals New Zealand on consecutive weekends in South Africa in Johannesburg and Cape Town respectively (on 31 August and 7 September).

They will then make a short trip to Argentina where they will face the Pumas in Santiago (on 21 September) and then return to South Africa to play the same opponents in Nelspruit as they conclude their Championship campaign on 28 September.

This will be followed by the traditional year-end tour featuring tests against Scotland in Edinburgh (9 November), England in London (16 November) and Wales in Cardiff (23 November).

Springbok training squad (in alphabetical order):

Forwards: Phepsi Buthelezi (Hollywoodbets Sharks), Joseph Dweba, Ben-Jason Dixon (both DHL Stormers), Pieter-Steph du Toit (Toyota Verblitz), Eben Etzebeth (Hollywoodbets Sharks), Neethling Fouche (DHL Stormers), Vincent Koch (Hollywoodbets Sharks), Frans Malherbe (DHL Stormers), Malcolm Marx (Kubota Spears), Bongi Mbonambi (Hollywoodbets Sharks), Ntuthuko Mchunu (Hollywoodbets Sharks), Salmaan Moerat (DHL Stormers), Franco Mostert (Honda Heat), Ox Nche (Hollywoodbets Sharks), Evan Roos (DHL Stormers), Kwagga Smith (Blu Revs), Andre-Hugo Venter (DHL Stormers), Jasper Wiese (Leicester Tigers).

Backs: Damian de Allende (Panasonic Wild Knights), Faf de Klerk (Canon Eagles), Andre Esterhuizen (Harlequins), Aphelele Fassi (Hollywoodbets Sharks), Jordan Hendrikse (Emirates Lions), Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu (DHL Stormers), Ethan Hooker (Hollywoodbets Sharks), Quan Horn (Emirates Lions), Cheslin Kolbe (Suntory Sungoliath) Jesse Kriel (Canon Eagles), Manie Libbok (DHL Stormers), Makazole Mapimpi, Siya Masuku (both Hollywoodbets Sharks), Handre Pollard (Leicester Tigers), Morne van den Berg (Emirates Lions), Edwill van der Merwe (Emirates Lions), Grant Williams (Hollywoodbets Sharks).