South Africa squad: player-by-player guide to the Springboks who will face the Lions team
New Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber, alongside his predecessor Rassie Erasmus, named his 46-man squad for the upcoming series against the British and Irish Lions last Saturday.
Below, we run through each of the 46 players called up, and predict which players will start, be on the bench, or find themselves battling to make the matchday squad.
Thomas du Toit
Club: Sharks Age: 26 Caps: 12 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Reserve
Joined the World Cup squad late as a replacement for Trevor Nyakane who picked up an early injury. Has previously played abroad with Toulouse. Tighthead who can also cover on the loosehead side too.
Club: Stormers Age: 29 Caps: 48 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Bench
Approaching his peak years and the top loosehead now that Tendai Mtawarira has retired. Now captain at the Stormers and has developed into one of the world’s leading looseheads. Will bring ballast off the bench.
Club: Saracens Age: 31 Caps: 21 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Reserve
Stuck with Saracens despite their relegation and a strong option behind Frans Malherbe on the tighthead side of South Africa’s scrum. Playing in the second tier in England hasn’t hurt his chances.
Club: Stormers Age: 30 Caps: 39 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Bench
Top-class operator, so destructive and gave Mako Vunipola a torrid time in the World Cup final. Finding a way to ruffle Malherbe will be one of the Lions’ top priorities and he’ll be a threat of the bench.
Club: Sharks Age: 25 Caps: 2 World Cup winner: No First Test role: Starter
Perhaps the biggest surprise selection in South Africa’s XV for the first Test, given his lack of experience. Offers great mobility around the field but the Lions will hope to target him in the scrum.
Club: Bulls Age: 32 Caps: 43 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Starter
Has switched around throughout his career between loosehead and tighthead. Now specialising in the latter role again and has edged ahead of Malherbe and Koch for a starting berth. Unlucky to pick up an early injury at the World Cup.
Club: Bordeaux-Bègles Age: 25 Caps: Uncapped World Cup winner: No First Test role: Reserve
Exciting prospect now scoring tries in France with UBB after a fascinating career, having broken through to the top of the sport in recent years with the Cheetahs. Low in the pecking order but powerful with ball in hand. Technically made the squad ahead of Sale’s Akker van der Merwe.
Club: Kubota Spears Age: 26 Caps: 34 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Bench
Seemed destined to become the world’s best hooker at one point but was used effectively by South Africa as a weapon off the bench in the World Cup, with Marx’s power and breakdown work both excellent. His lineout work in the past has been criticised. Worked well rotating with…
Club: Stormers Age: 30 Caps: 37 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Starter
…the Stormers hooker Mbonambi during the Rugby World Cup, and there’s no reason why Mbonambi shouldn’t be the starter again in the Lions series. Better set-piece worker than Marx but Mbonambi adds real physicality as well. Classy operator.
Lood de Jager
Club: Sale Sharks Age: 28 Caps: 45 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Bench
It hasn’t been the easiest stint at Sale for De Jager, struggling with injuries, but a nightmare to play against on his day. Currently coming back from a meniscus injury but before that scored three tries in three Premiership games, and looked in excellent form. Ran the Springbok lineout so successfully at the World Cup, with close to a perfect record.
Club: Toulon Age: 29 Caps: 86 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Starter
Still one of the Boks’ senior players with tons of caps, who epitomises South Africa’s physicality at the heart of their pack. It’s been a disjointed season for Etzebeth due to testing positive for Covid-19 and struggling with injury, but he’s a pivotal figure in a heavyweight pack.
Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg
Club: Montpellier Age: 27 Caps: Uncapped World Cup winner: No First Test role: Reserve
Definitely one of the more interesting selections. Janse van Rensburg was a nuisance for Montpellier in the Challenge Cup semi-final and final against Bath and Leicester; disrupting mauls, a physical ball-carrier, clearing rucks frequently. Nienaber was clearly watching. Left the Bulls for France in 2016.
Club: Honda Heat Age: 30 Caps: 40 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Starter
Made a brief impact at Gloucester but showed real class when at his best, now based out in Japan. One of those successful introductions for the Springboks off the bench at the last World Cup and a great lineout operator too. He now starts.
Club: Stormers Age: 28 Caps: 4 World Cup winner: No First Test role: Reserve
Faces a job to get into the matchday 23 given the quality in the group, but capped in the past and has been praised previously for his lineout jumping in particular.
Club: Munster Age: 26 Caps: 23 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Reserve
A bit like De Jager in that he’s struggled with injury post-World Cup since moving to a new club, this time with Munster. Brute of a player though when fit and was arguably the most effective of South Africa’s “Bomb Squad” replacements during the World Cup. Recent accident which left him with superficial burns has kept him off the training field.
Club: Toulouse Age: 31 Caps: 2 World Cup winner: No First Test role: Bench
Recently part of Toulouse’s Champions Cup-winning side in a quality back row alongside Francois Cros and Jerome Kaino. Tall enough at 6ft 6in to cover lock if required and will bring power off the bench.
Pieter-Steph du Toit
Club: Stormers Age: 28 Caps: 56 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Starter
One of the most sought-after players in world rugby, with significant interest from clubs in Japan. Phenomenal worker at blindside flanker for the Springboks and essential to their power game upfront to get on top of opponents. Returned from a career-threatening leg injury this year and now looks back to his best.
Club: Sharks Age: 29 Caps: 51 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Starter
Swapped the Stormers for the ambitious Sharks in a high-profile move, with the Springbok captain opting not to cash in and head overseas just yet. Outstanding leader but his breakdown work shouldn’t be overlooked either, while he was also the Boks’ second-highest tackler at the World Cup.
Club: Yamaha Júbilo Age: 27 Caps: 7 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Starter
Made his name in Sevens before joining the (SA) Lions and earning a spot in South Africa’s World Cup squad. Offers speed in that back row and good over the ball at the breakdown as well, coming in at No 8 in Duane Vermeulen’s absence.
Marco van Staden
Club: Bulls (soon to be Leicester Tigers) Age: 25 Caps: 3 World Cup winner: No First Test role: Reserve
One of the standout players for the Bulls under Jake White in recent months and a key part of their Currie Cup-winning campaign. Currently second for the most tackles behind Du Toit in the Rainbow Cup SA and set to join Leicester next season. “Marco is a phenomenal player, and is probably one of the most complete number sixes in the world currently,” White said recently, which is high praise.
Club: Leicester Tigers Age: 25 Caps: 1 World Cup winner: No First Test role: Bench
Wasn’t on the Springbok radar at all really when he left the Cheetahs to head to Leicester last year, but his impact at Welford Road has been sensational, battering tacklers out the way and ranking in the top three for defenders beaten in the Premiership. A bit of a revelation and his bench spot caps off an incredible rise.
Faf de Klerk
Club: Sale Sharks Age: 29 Caps: 30 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Starter
The king of the box-kick and always a threatening sniper too around the fringes of rucks, while his support lines don’t get enough credit either. Still as essential for the Boks as he was in 2019 and the clear starter.
Club: Stormers Age: 25 Caps: 11 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Bench
Looking back at the build-up to the 2019 World Cup, Jantjies was arguably the biggest bolt from the blue in the entire squad, coming out of nowhere to become the back-up to De Klerk. Recently back from injury and working his way back to that 2019 form.
Club: Montpellier Age: 31 Caps: 15 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Reserve
Bound to push Jantjies hard again and his savvy, veteran’s performance in the recent Challenge Cup final win over Leicester, complete with chewing up the clock at every breakdown, was enjoyable. The Boks know what they’re getting with Reinach and can rely on him.
Club: Pau Age: 30 Caps: 38 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Reserve
Currently in the Top 14 with Pau on a short-term deal and Jantjies has made a decent impact too with the club avoiding relegation, which will keep him fresh in time for the Lions series. Faithful back-up to Pollard and has earned a bench spot thanks to South Africa reverting to a 5-3 forwards and backs split on the bench.
Club: Montpellier Age: 27 Caps: 49 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Starter
Recently returned from an ACL injury and just at the right time to help Montpellier win the Challenge Cup, getting in enough matches to be at the peak of his powers in time for the Lions series (with Montpellier not set to feature in the Top 14 play-offs). Just an all-round excellent No 10.
Club: Bulls Age: 36 Caps: 66 World Cup winner: No First Test role: Reserve
Not capped since facing the All Blacks in 2016, but now he’s back! It’s an extraordinary turnaround for the fly-half whose long-range penalty won South Africa the 2009 Lions series. In cracking form for the Bulls, who lifted the Currie Cup earlier this year.
Club: Sharks Age: 27 Caps: 15 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Starter
Defensively so important for South Africa at the World Cup in that 13 channel and his inter-play with Makazole Mapimpi was pretty good too for that try in the final. He’ll be pivotal in midfield.
Damian de Allende
Club: Munster Age: 29 Caps: 47 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Starter
Arrived at Munster following a stint in Japan and offers welcome physicality on both sides of the ball in that inside centre channel. Paired up with Am again, with the superficial burns he suffered in a fire pit accident recently not too serious. Must be close to being the best in the world.
Club: Canon Eagles Age: 27 Caps: 47 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Reserve
Desperately unlucky to pick up an injury in the opening game of the World Cup, because he’s been a brilliant player for the Springboks in recent years. Now fit and available again, excellent distributor and a nice alternative to Am at 13. Misses out on the matchday squad.
Club: Cheetahs Age: 34 Caps: 68 World Cup winner: Yes (twice) First Test role: Reserve
On course for a potential double Lions series, double World Cup win, which is quite remarkable. Still kicks long penalties and still covers multiple positions, to make him the ideal number 23 on the bench with a six-two split between forwards and backs. Playing in the Test series would cap off a superb career.
Club: Sharks Age: 23 Caps: 1 World Cup winner: No First Test role: Reserve
Fascinating talent who has scored some spectacular tries over the past two years in South Africa. Real pace, quick feet, still young – the Test series might be a big ask for him but he’s some prospect at full-back. Has already beaten 20 defenders in the Rainbow Cup and scored on his Springboks debut.
Club: Toulouse Age: 27 Caps: 14 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Starter
Considering he’s now the world’s top wing, it almost seems odd that Kolbe only has 15 caps for the Springboks. Hasn’t skipped a beat since Yokohama and now a Champions Cup winner too with Toulouse. Will be as elusive and devastating as ever.
Willie le Roux
Club: Toyota Verblitz Age: 31 Caps: 62 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Starter
No reason why the former Wasp shouldn’t be starting at full-back again, despite the competition from Fassi. Silenced a lot of critics with his performances at the World Cup and he’ll be the most experienced of South Africa’s backs again facing the Lions.
Club: Sharks Age: 30 Caps: 14 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Starter
A revelation two years ago, making the second-highest number of clean breaks at the World Cup (12) and scoring six tries, one behind top scorer Josh Adams. Now back in South Africa after a stint in Japan and has been beating defenders for fun again in the Rainbow Cup.
Club: Sharks Age: 25 Caps: 11 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Reserve
Should keep the pressure on his Sharks team-mate Mapimpi and out of the remaining wings selected, feels closest to the finished product. Another South African player to sign with Jay-Z’s sports agency Roc-Nation, like Kolisi, which gives you an indication of his career trajectory.
Club: Stormers Age: 23 Caps: 7 World Cup winner: Yes First Test role: Bench
Highly-regarded talent still at the start of his career, who was an injury call-up by the Springboks during the World Cup. Has shuffled between fly-half and full-back but now leaning towards the latter with the Stormers. Big chance off the bench.