Winning pressure for Boks, a score to settle for Du Toit

SPRINGBOK captain Pieter-Steph du Toit has a score to settle against Wales as the Boks begin preparations for 2027 in Twickenham. | Armand Hough INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

SPRINGBOK captain Pieter-Steph du Toit has a score to settle against Wales as the Boks begin preparations for 2027 in Twickenham. | Armand Hough INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

Published Jun 22, 2024


AS REIGNING world champions, the pressure will always be on the Springboks to win their test matches.

While they will go out this afternoon at Twickenham to do exactly that against Wales in the season’s first clash, the Boks also want to tick a few other boxes ahead of a tough international season – one such box is to grow the squad to build quality depth.

The first of 13 tests will be a tricky one for returning head coach Rassie Erasmus and his band of mixed-experienced players in London (kick-off 3pm SA time).

On one hand, they have several World Cup-winning stars in the starting line up that could make the transition easier after the departure of former coach Jacques Nienaber. On the other hand, four debutants need to find their feet in the set up alongside other Springboks with limited test experience. European-based players such as Siya Kolisi will miss the test as it falls outside of World Rugby’s test window, and a couple of Bulls stars are unavailable because they play in the final of the United Rugby Championship later today.

But, the Springboks are confident the plans they’ve put in place for this one-off clash against the Dragons on neutral ground will pay off, and set them up with momentum for the rest of the season.

Player of the Match in the 2023 World Cup final Pieter-Steph du Toit will lead the Boks into battle. The last time he was captain, South Africa lost to Wales in Washington, so for him there is a personal score to settle against the Warren Gatland-coached side.

Over the last 10 games, the teams also share the wins with five apiece, so the Springboks will do everything in their power to change that little statistic in their favour.

“We’ve each won five games in the last 10 clashes, which shows that there are no easy tests against Wales,” Du Toit said ahead of the game.

“They are very physical and have big guys in their team. We expect them to keep going until the final whistle, they play with a lot of heart. They don’t go away.

“I’ve got a special bond with Wales, to me it feels personal (playing them). I made my debut against them in 2013 and had my first captaincy (in 2018 against them), and now it’s my second. So, it’s special playing them.

“The pressure to win will always be there when you put on the Springbok jersey. We have done our preparation for the last two weeks. There are some changes with the new attack and defence coach, but the core of the team has stayed the same.

“We have a better edge than what was the case in 2018, but the pressure will be on both sides. It is a massive honour and privilege to captain the side.”

The Bok leader has highlighted the physicality of the Welsh as one of their strong areas, and that they have a never-say-die attitude. He expects the same this afternoon in front of a crowd of over 65 000 supporters.

He urged his side to back their system and what they’ve implemented over the last few months as they prepared for the blockbuster season ahead.

The return of Bok hooker Malcolm Marx after his World Cup injury disappointment will be watched keenly, especially his duel with Welsh hooker and captain Dewi Lake.

Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick added that they are keen to see how the new Springboks will fare as they continue to grow the squad with an eye on the 2027 Rugby World Cup in Australia.

Lions flyhalf Jordan Hendrikse and winger Edwill van der Merwe will debut with some experience around them, while Stormers utility back Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu and Ben-Jason Dixon (utility forward) should get their first cap off the bench.

“We have to start building towards 2027 now. There are a couple of youngsters getting an opportunity, but with a good mixture of experienced players around them

“The most important thing is not to try too much, but to do the things we trained well. The key will be to have a good start and pitch up with our physicality.”

Springboks: 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 (captain), 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.

Wales: 15 Cameron Winnett, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Owen Watkin, 12 Mason Grady, 11 Rio Dyer, 10 Sam Costelow, 9 Ellis Bevan, 8 Aaron Wainwright, 7 James Botham, 6 Taine Plumtree, 5 Ben Carter, 4 Matthew Screech, 3 Keiron Assiratti, 2 Dewi Lake (captain), 1 Gareth Thomas.

Replacements: 16 Evan Lloyd, 17 Kemsley Mathias, 18 Harri O’Connor, 19 James Ratti, 20 Mackenzie Martin, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Eddie James, 23 Jacob Beetham.

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