Cape Town - Around 84 percent … that’s how many of Rassie Erasmus's anticipated Springbok squad for RWC 2019, to be revealed later on Monday, might feasibly still be in contention for selection four years onward in France.
If the expected group of 31 heading for Japan soon carries the South African flag with notable honour at this year’s event, it should simultaneously only serve as a pointer to their potential as an even more streetwise bunch by the time RWC 2023 comes along.
For truth be told, there will be relatively few genuine Bok “oldies” attending the 2019 version.
What seems like one of the most predictable - for all the right reasons - Springbok RWC parties in recent history (announcement live on SuperSport, 15:00) should be educative for the likelihood that only five of the 31 can pretty safely be called non-starters for 2023 due to age-related circumstances.
While there will always be the very occasional “Victor Matfield” around the rugby planet (or read, someone playing competently at the highest level to around age 38), it is considerably more common for players reaching 33 or 34 to be seriously contemplating quitting the Test arena.
If you employ that template, perhaps as few as five anticipated 31 Bok picks for the Japan jamboree (so a mere 16 percent or thereabouts) will be goners in terms of the 2023 World Cup ... the one so infuriatingly snatched from beneath South Africa’s noses after the country had been officially deemed “preferred candidate” for a few hopeful days.
Those would be Schalk Brits (the one extreme Bok veteran, already 38), Francois Louw and Tendai Mtawarira (both 34), the 33-year-old Duane Vermeulen and Frans Steyn, 32.
More borderline, perhaps, would be the likes of Willie le Roux and Trevor Nyakane, both 30 at this point although far from outlandish thoughts as “possibles” for another World Cup: some say that props, for example, reach peak potential as late as their early- to mid-thirties.
But everyone else (probably 24 of them) in the expected RWC 2019 squad will travel to the Far East as under-30s, giving them every prospect of completing another four-year cycle to the French-hosted event if they retain suitable levels of hunger and fitness.
While that is naturally also more than enough time for plenty of new faces to burst into the mix, helpfully restoring more of a youthful balance to the Boks again, it is a gratifying thought that so many of the current personnel should still be able to grace RWC 2023.
Indeed, of the expected “first XV” that Erasmus will field for the red-letter pool opener against champions New Zealand at Yokohama on September 21, perhaps only No 8 Vermeulen and Mtawarira (the latter if preferred to close-running Steven Kitshoff at loosehead prop) will most obviously not be around for 2023.
Although core, pedigreed personnel like SA Rugby Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit, in-form flyhalf Handre Pollard and senior lock Eben Etzebeth seem to have already been around for a long time, Du Toit only turned 27 last week, Pollard is still just 25 and Etzebeth would hardly be a has-been in France in four years’ time as a 31-year-old.
Meanwhile bright young things like scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies and powerful wing S’bu Nkosi would each be 27 by then and roughly in the prime of their rugby lives, a situation that would also apply to RG Snyman, Lukhanyo Am, Malcolm Marx, Cheslin Kolbe and others.
There are already hugely more optimistic thoughts in South Africa, based on rising stocks by the presently unbeaten 2019 national side, about the Boks’ chances of a powerful crack at the Webb Ellis Cup in Japan.
Might they have an even better prospect of glory in 2023?
It is a reasonably pleasant thought …
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