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The true value of experience

OPINION: @rugby365com contributor Angus Opperman unpacks the latest selection debate swirling around the Springbok team.


Coaches will never please every fan. That will be the common theme in sport, forever.

The latest outcry from South African fans is the exclusion of the exciting Aphelele Fassi, who marked his debut with a try in his first touch against Georgia earlier this year.

The Springbok brains trust opted for the more conservative route against Wales last week.

With wing Sibusiso Nkosi missing last Saturday’s Test due to passport and visa issues, many speculated that Fassi will feature as one of the changes in the back three.

However, coach Jacques Nienaber selected Jesse Kriel on the right wing and Makazole Mapimpi retained the No.11 jersey, much to the disapproval of the general public.

What one does tend to miss here is the bigger picture.


I took a look back at the two New Zealand sides that contested and won the 2011 and 2015 World Cup finals.

Their matchday 23 in 2015 had nine of the 2011 matchday 22 going for their second medal.

Seven out of those nine were starters in 2015 – all boasting over 50 caps and with the same loose trio in both finals.

The current Springbok team is missing Pieter Steph du Toit in the pack, with Albertus Smith – standing in for Du Toit – the only one under 30 Test caps.


Mbongeni Mbonambi is standing on 46 caps, so by the time 2023 arrives the overall pack should all be at least half-centurions.

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In the back three, despite their success, Cheslin Kolbe, Sibusiso Nkosi and Makazole Mapimpi are all still under 30 caps.

Veterans like Willie le Roux and Frans Steyn are the half-centurions.

There should be no reason to rush Fassi into the Test arena at this stage.

He has gotten a taste of Test rugby and there is still just under two years until the 2023 World Cup, which provides plenty of time for learning and earning Tests caps ahead of the next global showpiece.

There’s also the case of ‘fringe’ players in the squad, like Cobus Wiese, Damian Willemse and Cobus Reinach that are also under 50 caps and had minimal game time this year – with Wiese being the exception, filling in for Vermeulen during the B&I Lions series.

If this Springbok side can have a wealth of experience going into 2023, with a mixture of those being young, yet standing on 30+ caps, there should be little doubt that they’ll have the credentials to go back-to-back as world champions.


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