TALKING POINTS: On the Bok squad and those dratted cards

rugby11 June 2024 06:10| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
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Springboks © Getty Images

Of course, with 35 players called up and several to be added once the Vodacom Bulls have completed their Vodacom United Rugby Championship commitments and more overseas based players become available, you have to be careful not to make undue fuss over the selections. Not all the new players will get capped because you have to play in order to be capped.



As an example, DHL Stormers veteran hooker Scarra Ntubeni was first called up to a Bok squad in 2013. He only got capped when he played for Rassie Erasmus’ team in a final warmup game before the 2019 Rugby World Cup. In other words, six years later. Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu is an example of a player who has been called up for a Bok tour and has yet to be capped. Several of the players in the current group will remain uncapped at the end of the coming phase of matches, although the final game of the Castle Lager Incoming Tours sequence, against Portugal in Bloemfontein, does present an additional opportunity to the 22 June clash with Wales in London for Erasmus to experiment and spread the net.

Given how many players were called up, Stormers lock Ruben van Heerden was an unlucky omission, and if you are selecting on potential, which Erasmus is in many instances, then I’d have thought Suleiman Hartzenberg should have had a look in.

But there is so much talent in this country that there will always be disappointed players. Overall it feels churlish to nitpick, for Erasmus has come up with a group that is a great blend of experience, current form and potential. Which is what you’d want for a first squad at the start of a new World Cup cycle, particularly when you have so many double World Cup winners in the selection net.

Some of those can go on to try and make it as triple RWC winners in Australia in 2027, but not all of them can. There will need to be a significant amount of refreshing over the next few seasons, although you should expect Erasmus to go with the World Cup winners against Ireland. The need to underline their right to be recognised as deserved holders of the world No 1 ranking and World Cup champions against the next best is just too great for there to be any experimenting now.

I’d contend there is also a strong need to win the Castle Lager Rugby Champions this year, something that has been absent from the trophy cabinet since the truncated tournament in the 2019 World Cup year. So changes need to be bled in slowly, and the games against Wales and Portugal are the openings for experimentation.


One of the most notable features of the 35-man squad is the way it reflects the sudden depth South Africa has at flyhalf. So oh yes, Sanele Nohamba is another unlucky player to miss out. Mention of Nohamba, who is also of course a scrumhalf, cues the utility value of some the group of flyhalves selected.

Feinberg-Mngomezulu considers himself primarily a flyhalf, and many see him as the future Bok No 10, but he’s played most of his rugby for the Stormers in the midfield. He’s also played more rugby at fullback at URC level than he has at pivot (he has yet to wear the Stormers No 10). Jordan Hendrikse too has shown utility value lately by playing inside centre, where like Feinberg-Mngomezulu he looks a good example of what the Kiwis would call a second five-eight (a player with flyhalf skills at centre).

The Boks don’t usually go for that kind of player at No 12, they prefer someone powerfully built who carries the ball up to and if possible over the gainline, although Jean de Villiers had the brain and skill of a second five-eight and of course Damian Willemse has played there for the Boks and also has plenty of experience of playing No 10.

Willemse was used by Jacques Nienaber during the initial phase of Handre Pollard being injured before Manie Libbok made his statement in the second half of a November tour match against Italy in 2022. Libbok did enough on that tour to go into 2023 as the go too man at pivot and he excelled in his first full season of international rugby. He brought a different dynamic to the Bok attacking game, and with former All Black flyhalf and Japan and Highlanders coaching guru Tony Brown now on the Bok staff, you’d expect Libbok to get plenty of game time again this year.

The caveat to that though will always be his goalkicking. Even though he boasts impressive stats from the tee, there are just too many times, like in the Stormers’ loss to Glasgow Warriors in the URC quarterfinal, where he appears to go walkabout.

Stormers coach John Dobson is right when he says that the thing about Libbok is that he is the kind of player who appears to put early failures behind him when presented with a clutch kick later in a game, as he did in kicking a touchline conversion to win the semifinal against Ulster in 2022. But those kicks needn’t be clutch kicks if he was more consistent.

In Libbok’s defence, there was a treacherous wind to deal with at the Scotstoun, but the Glasgow kicker George Horn, who admittedly would be more attuned to those conditions, got it right. To my mind Libbok is a great international flyhalf, at least when the conditions are dry and not like they were in last year’s World Cup semifinal in Paris.

He’s developed a penchant for overdoing the cross kick just lately, but he does bring too much to his attacking bow for him not to be considered for his general play. Which cues again Feinberg-Mngomezulu. Willemse once kicked for the Stormers and then was relieved of the responsibility and has never looked back subsequent to that.

The Stormers supporters might feel a lot more assured going forward if Feinberg-Mngomezulu was entrusted with the frontline goalkicking responsibilities. He’s capable of kicking them over from everywhere and isn’t erratic and I haven’t seen him flustered.

The problem of course is where to fit him in, both at the Stormers and, if Erasmus is prepared to blood him this early, at the Boks. Willemse is the first choice No 12 at the Stormers when he’s fit, and Damian de Allende and Andre Esterhuizen are experienced players who perfectly suit the Bok game.

Warrick Gelant is the rightful first choice Stormers fullback, and Willemse started there for the Boks in the World Cup final last October. If the Boks can find a reliable or alternative backup kicker to Libbok in another position, and you just have to think Percy Montgomery if you want a reminder that a flyhalf doesn’t always have to kick from the tee, it will open the way for Libbok to start more often.


Stormers coach John Dobson has admitted that he has been forced after a rethink to change his mind about his previous support for the Currie Cup to be played in the off-season window of July and August.

The latest from SA Rugby is that they are confident that the Currie Cup will be played in the time slot intended despite MiPlayers winning their arbitration case. And maybe it should be played in July and August this time around if it means that it saves some of the smaller unions from going bankrupt. Players would surely prefer to have their jobs than have them cut, which could be the upshot if the Currie Cup doesn’t get played.

But the motive behind the MiPlayers case is 100 per cent correct, and a rethink is necessary for what works going forward. There should be eight weeks of continuous rest, not haphazard rest on an individualised basis, and with player conditioning and welfare issues in mind, it is counterproductive to the sport’s stakeholders in this country for rugby to be an all year round business. If SA is going to be aligned to the northern season, it needs to also align with the northern offseason.

While it makes sense from a profile viewpoint to play the domestic competition at a time when there is no other provincial/regional rugby, the fact that the top unions that participate in the URC would for obvious reasons be playing it understrength anyway, means there is no really good reason it should not be played concurrently with the URC. As it was in the previous years of SA’s involvement with the URC.

As Dobson has noted, it would make sense for the Currie Cup to be played at the same time as the URC and EPCR competitions as it means fringe players not in action regularly at URC level would remain match sharp. He wouldn’t have to create friendlies and simulated game situations in training, which he agrees just aren’t the same as the real thing, as the fringe players will be getting regular action in the Currie Cup.


So we have had another major final where a red card has had an influence on the narrative around the team that won the trophy. Bath had a player sent off in the Gallagher Premiership final at the weekend. Maybe they would have lost the game anyway, but Bath will be right if they feel cheated, just as the All Blacks supporters continue to feel aggrieved after Sam Cane’s red card in an even bigger final, the RWC, last October. I think Cane’s card galvanised the Kiwis, and the Boks would have won more comfortably, but the point is that it twisted the narrative.

Neither of the two red cards were for something that was the result of malicious intent, and we’d say the same about Salmaan Moerat’s yellow card at a crucial stage of the Stormers quarterfinal. The Stormers captain was maybe a little upright in the collision, but did it really merit a card if you look at it from the logical perspective that rugby is a collision sport and not from the safety driven inspired current rugby laws that unfortunately border on paranoia.

If anything, an earlier incident in the Glasgow game involving Glasgow’s Kyle Steyn was even more deserving of a card, although I’d add that when I say that I mean it with the current laws in mind. Again, logically, there shouldn’t have been a card there either.

Red cards have become so commonplace. Too commonplace, and while it happened so late in the game that many might have forgotten it or overlooked it, there was also one in the Investec Champions Cup final. Fortunately the offending team’s player, Toulouse, won the game, so it did not impact the narrative.

There are red cards that merit that sanction, like Angelo Davids’ taking out of Sanele Nohamba with a dangerous tackle in the final Stormers league game, but there are so many others that are really just unavoidable accidents that are going to keep happening just so long as rugby remains a contact sport and doesn’t change to being touch rugby.

It’s a subject that’s being done to death, I know, but it needs to be repeated until such time as World Rugby come up with a solution. Their laws make their referees look like the ogres, but they are just officiating according to instruction.