South Africa haven’t played an international rugby union Test match since lifting the World Cup in Japan. It won’t be long before we are halfway through the latest cycle and the Springboks must mount a defence of their global crown in France in 2023.
The Rainbow Nation’s triumph in the Far East saw them tie with New Zealand as three-time Rugby World Cup winners. South Africa are scheduled to host the touring British and Irish Lions midway through 2021 with subtle changes to the coaching staff made, but more significant ones on the field expected.
Rassie Erasmus reverted to his Director of Rugby role soon after the Springboks’ success in the Land of the Rising Sun. Up stepped long-time lieutenant, defence and assistant coach Jacques Nienaber to oversee day-to-day responsibilities.
This pair have worked very well together for a long while. First with the Western Province and the Stormers, later in Europe with Irish outfit Munster and the South Africa national team, Nienaber now in the head coach role allows Erasmus to focus on strategy.
A key and essential element of that has to be evolving the Springboks squad. Their World Cup roster contains a few players who have since retired from rugby altogether or will simply be too old to be on the plane to France in two years’ time.
If changes in the Springboks’ forward pack are needed, then thankfully for Erasmus and Nienaber most of the backs could still have a role to play. Inside centre Francois Steyn may be too long in the tooth at 36 by the time next World Cup rolls around, but him apart the options at half back, in midfield and across the back three may all merit consideration.
Willie Le Roux will be 34 at fullback, while winger Makazole Mapimpi, fly-half Elton Jantjies and scrum-half Cobus Reinach turn 33 at various points in 2023. South Africa’s hierarchy must decide how many veterans they want in the set-up and only have a couple of years to weigh up their options.
Assessing the Springboks’ prospects of a successful World Cup defence is thus tricky, but the latest rugby union betting on the tournament with bet365 has them as 11/2 fourth-favourites. That puts the Rainbow Nation behind the All Blacks, hosts France and recent Six Nations flops England in the market.
One thing these other countries all have in common as an edge over South Africa is they’ve already begun their preparations. The French have a young emerging side under Fabien Galthie, who again went close in the Six Nations Championship this year.
A handful of Springboks players have spent time in Europe playing club rugby in the Top 14, so should know what to expect from the tournament hosts. We will discover more about South African plans if and when the Lions Tour comes around