South Africa opt for ‘anti-England’ approach after naming squad for Europe tour
The demands of a long international season haven't been sufficient to convince South Africa any major changes are required after naming their 32-man squad for the upcoming tour of Europe on Tuesday.
The reigning world champions travel to face Wales on November 6 before closing out a gruelling 2021 schedule with meetings against Scotland (Nov. 13) and England (Nov. 20).
Head coach Jacques Nienaber already guided the team to a 2-1 series victory over the British and Irish Lions, but signs of fatigue at times looked apparent as the team finished third in the Rugby Championship.
Nonetheless, selectors appear content with the current crop and have retained much the same squad for their trip to the northern hemisphere.
That tactic lies in contrast to England chief Eddie Jones, who left out a host of senior figures —including Billy Vunipola and George Ford—when he named his autumn squad on Monday.
England are chasing change after finishing fifth at the 2021 Six Nations, with this latest squad including four uncapped players and another nine who only made their Red Rose debuts in July.
South Africa have only two uncapped players—lock Salmaan Moerat and scrum-half Grant Williams—but will be without injured stars Faf de Klerk and Cheslin Kolbe.
Sale Sharks scrum-half De Klerk has cemented his place in the Springboks' No. 9 jersey when fit, but it's reported his hip complaint could keep him out of action for the remainder of the calendar year.
A knee injury kept winger Kolbe out of the Australian leg of the Rugby Championship, and he'll focus his efforts on recovery in preparation for his Toulon debut following a summer move from French rivals Toulouse.
Another key source of experience who won't make the trip to Europe is fly-half Morne Steyn, the man who kicked the Boks to victory over the Lions but has now retired from the international game.
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Nienaber told reporters "every match will count" as South Africa prepare to defend their crown at the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France, looking forward to the task awaiting his team north of the equator.
“This tour is going to be exciting yet challenging,” he said.
“The core group of players who played a key role in the series against the British & Irish Lions, as well as the Castle Lager Rugby Championship will remain together as we build consistency and continuity in our squad with an eye on the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
“We had to travel to Australia with an expanded squad due the strict COVID-19 protocols in the country, but with the easing of travel restrictions to Europe and the UK, we were able to revert to a more manageable touring squad."
The vast majority of those players named have been part of the South Africa camp for every portion of a packed 2021 schedule, which was initially thrown into chaos due to Covid-19 outbreaks.
One of their two Test meetings with Georgia was cancelled as a result, while the Lions had to revise their schedule and play all three Tests in Cape Town.
The Springboks were disappointed to finish third at the Rugby Champions behind Australia, but a 31-29 win over New Zealand in their tournament-closer served as validation for the current squad.
Rather than follow England's lead by using the November schedule to blood a bulk of new talent, Nienaber will continue to work with largely the same selection in a show of faith to his existing cast.
Two different approaches with very different priorities, which could have a hefty impact in deciding who makes the more convincing attempt at the next Rugby World Cup.
As Nienaber has suggested, every game will count on the road to France, and 2019 Rugby World Cup runners-up England will hope their young prospects prosper with time to bed in at Test level.
Newcastle Falcons full-back Mike Brown is confident the Vunipola brothers, Jamie George, Ford and Elliot Daly "could easily come back" into Jones' England plans, but others have a head start for now.
South Africa will continue to lean on largely the same corps of stars that took them to glory in Japan, meanwhile, with no rush to fix something they don't consider to be broken.
South Africa 32-man autumn squad
Thomas du Toit, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Ox Nche, Trevor Nyakane, Joseph Dweba, Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Salmaan Moerat, Marvin Orie, Siya Kolisi, Kwagga Smith, Marco van Staden, Duane Vermeulen, Jasper Wiese, Franco Mostert
Herschel Jantjies, Cobus Reinach, Grant Williams, Elton Jantjies, Handre Pollard, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Jesse Kriel, Aphelele Fassi, Willie le Roux, Makazole Mapimpi, Sbu Nkosi, Damian Willemse, Frans Steyn
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