Koch ‘honoured’ with a start for his 50th cap

SPRINGBOK head coach Rassie Erasmus. Samuel Shivambu BackpagePix

SPRINGBOK head coach Rassie Erasmus. Samuel Shivambu BackpagePix

Published Jun 19, 2024


Mike Greenaway

VINCENT Koch will win his 50th cap for the Springboks in Saturday’s encounter with Wales in London – but he is only starting the match because of a gesture of goodwill by fellow veteran prop Frans Malherbe.

Coach Rassie Erasmus said the team he announced internally to the squad on Sunday originally had Malherbe starting and Koch on the bench.

“One of the senior guys came up to me and said, ‘Do you know it is Vincent’s 50th cap?’” Erasmus explained.

“I didn’t. I spoke to Frans and made the change because it is important that we properly honour the hard work a guy puts in to get to his 50th cap.”

VINCENT Koch will earn his 50th Test cap on Saturday. BackpagePix

Erasmus added that he had made the same mistake before. A few seasons back he announced Lood de Jager as one of the starting locks only to be reminded that it was Franco Mostert’s 50th Test.

“Lood insisted that he drop to the bench and Franco start. That is what Springbok teammates do for each other,” Erasmus said.

Koch and Malherbe are part of a steely backbone of World Cup players who today travel to London.

A total of 10 players in the match 23 featured in the 2023 World Cup final against the All Blacks in Paris, while 16 players were members of the World Cup squad.

Erasmus has picked four uncapped players – Edwill van der Merwe (wing), Jordan Hendrikse (flyhalf) Ben-Jason Dixon (lock/flank) and Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu (utility back) – and recalled rising stars Evan Roos and Aphelele Fassi.

He is also taking another five uncapped players along for the ride to experience intimately what Test rugby is about. They are Neethling Fouche (prop), Phepsi Buthelezi (loose forward), Ethan Hooker (centre), Quan Horn (fullback), and Andre-Hugo Venter (hooker).

The Lions duo of Van der Merwe and Hendrikse are in the starting line-up, while the Stormers pair of Dixon and Feinberg-Mngomezulu will play off the bench.

“It is vitally important that we use the opportunity to build what we did not have when we won the 2019 World Cup,” Erasmus said.

“We did not have a chance in 2020 to kick on because of Covid and when we did resume playing, we had to chuck large groups of newcomers into games.

“We had 18 new players in the game against Wales in 2022 in Bloemfontein and about the same for an away match against Argentina. That was not ideal and we lost those games.”

Pieter-Steph du Toit will captain the Springboks against Wales. | BackpagePix

Erasmus said his challenge is to add new players week by week while also bringing in the new ideas of assistant coaches Tony Brown and Jerry Flannery.

“It is very important that we ensure we maintain our high standards, the core way we play while adding on what Tony and Jerry are doing,” he said.

“If we just threw in a bunch of young guys without seniors around them, we won’t know if we have kept our foundation or not.

“So we have picked this team on the basis that we can stay where we were and we can build on top of that.”

The Boks have a brand new flyhalf in the 22-year-old Hendrikse, and Erasmus has partnered him with the experienced Faf de Klerk on his inside and the burly Andre Esterhuizen on his outside at centre.

“Jordan is a player we have always believed will come through the ranks,” Erasmus explained. “He has the benefit of having been with us at the training camp for some time (because the Lions finished the United Rugby Championship early).

“With the Bulls players not available, the Stormers players having been with us for just two sessions and the overseas guys not eligible, it helps to know that you are not picking a guy who has had limited sessions.”

Springboks starting XV: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Edwill van der Merwe, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Jordan Hendrikse, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Evan Roos, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit (capt), 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Ox Nche; Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Ben-Jason Dixon, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, 23 Damian de Allende