Is this Bok team good enough to win another World Cup?
YEAR-END SPOTLIGHT: South Africa’s national brains trust will face a hell of a juggling act if they are to be successful in defending their World Cup crown in 2023.
Jake White, the former World Cup-winning Springbok coach said you can’t look at the year-end tour in isolation.
The Boks face Wales in Cardiff (November 6), Scotland in Edinburgh (November 13) and England in London (November 20) on the tour.
“We lost a year of rugby,” White said of the 2020 COVID-enforced lockdowns – which saw the Boks play no Test rugby at all.
“The lie of the land is very different to what it would have been, had we played last year.”
The posers faced by Bok coach Jacques Nienaber and Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus are complicated.
Should they have started preparing for the 2023 World Cup and blood some new players?
“I am not sure there is an exact science to that,” White said.
He added the fact that there were no opportunities for Nienaber to ‘experiment’ in 2020, meant his hand was forced to go with tried and tested.
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“He has to tick the boxes for [the World Cup] in two years’ time.
“This tour is not just about how we will perform against Wales, Scotland and England.
“It is about affirming the decisions that must be made in two years’ time.”
White said the key question is: ‘Will the current team be good enough to win another World Cup?’
The 2007 World Cup-winning Bok coach used the 1991 and 1995 tournaments as prime examples of coaches hanging onto players and teams for too long.
The 1987 World Cup-winning All Black team had aged too much by the 1991 World Cup and could not repeat their heroics of four years previously – losing in the semifinals to Australia.
The same applied to the 1995 tournament – where the 1991 champion Australian team failed to advance past the quarterfinals with their aging team.
“There is no right or wrong, but history has shown that sometimes you can hang on to a certain group of players for too long,” White added.
“Is this [Bok] team going to be good enough to win another World Cup? Are players like Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth, Lodewyk de Jager, Trevor Nyakane going to change?
“That is why this tour is important.
“You will get a feel for what needs to be done.”
White pointed to the massive changes made by England coach Eddie Jones to his year-end squad.
“I am not saying we need to copy that, but we need to see whether this group is hungry enough to win another World Cup,” he said.
Another key aspect influencing the Boks is the fact that half of the 32-man squad ply their trade abroad – England’s Premiership, with Irish provinces in the URC, France and Japan – which means they won’t get the extended breaks most of the South African-based players will get.
This include key players like Vincent Koch, Malcolm Marx, Lodewyk de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Albertus Smith, Duane Vermeulen, Franco Mostert, Cobus Reinach, Elton Jantjies, Handré Pollard, Damian de Allende and Willie le Roux.
“The secret of the last World Cup was the amount of time Rassie [Erasmus] had access to those players,” White said.
“Japan’s success at the  World Cup was that of the 365 days [before the tournament], 250 of those days that team was ring-fenced into a camp.
“It is going to be a hell of a juggling act.
“That is why this tour is not just about winning three games. It is about seeing whether these overseas-based players – who will have a roster and schedule far worse than anyone – are going to be good enough to win another World Cup.
“The key is how you manage players you don’t have access to, who are owned by overseas clubs and franchises.”
White said SA Rugby’s PONI system will allow them to ring-fence key domestic players.
“Their [SA Rugby’s] challenge is not ring-fencing Trevor [Nyakane], [Steven] Kitshoff and [Frans] Malherbe. Their challenge is to ring-fence and manage Koch, Marx, De Jager, Etzebeth and Pollard.”
He said the key focus for the tour is not ‘technical’ stuff, but to understand whether you need to keep the current group of players together.
“The only way you find out is how they play in the Northern Hemisphere in year-end tours,” White said.
“The reality is, no doubt, when Etzebeth, Lood and Kitshoff are on song, they are a great team.
“Are they going to be such a great team two years from now and if not, what are you going to do?”
White added that desire will also play a role.
“Will these players have the hunger and desire to win another World Cup?
“The next World Cup is in France, which means they will face the same conditions they will experience on this tour.”