BEST OF THE BOKS
TOP 14 stars lying in wait for the British and Irish Lions
British and Irish Lions fans begin 2021 with an obvious question: What are our chances against the World Champions? A good place to answer that question is the TOP 14, where the Best of the Boks ply their trade week in, week out.
This quick form guide gives touring fans much to think about.
Eben Etzebeth (Second Row)
A regular fixture in the second row for South Africa since 2012, Etzebeth is a key part of their dominant pack – the juggernaut of World Rugby. Etzebeth commands the line-out for both South Africa and Toulon, where he has been since he won a 2019 Rugby World Cup medal.
His brute strength and controlled aggression make him a formidable opponent for any player, and despite South Africa’s depth of cover at second row, Etzebeth has a cemented role in the starting XV. With the likes of Lood de Jager, Franco Mostert and RG Snyman as the other second row options, Erasmus has no shortage of quality and experience to call upon, but he sees Eben Etzebeth as his line-out general. Toulon’s South African powerhouse will be one area the Lions will have to cope with if they want to leave South Africa as winners.
Cheslin Kolbe (Winger)
No South African squad would be complete without a certain hot-stepping Springbok from Toulouse. Cheslin Kolbe has, time and time again, proven his credentials as one of the best wingers, and perhaps, the greatest finisher in World Rugby. Since making his debut in 2018, he has helped South Africa win the 2019 Rugby Championship as well as scoring the try that guaranteed South Africa’s first Rugby World Cup victory since 2007. The pocket-rocket lights up the TOP 14, playing an integral role in Toulouse’s 2019 title victory, capping off an incredible year for the 27-year-old.
South Africa, as always, have a wide selection of wingers to pick from. Makazole Mapimpi and S’busiso Nkosi will be rivalling Kolbe for a starting spot come the summer. However, Kolbe’s unique style of play, which is seemingly unstoppable on his day, makes him favourite for the 14 shirt.
Cobus Reinach (Scrum-half)
There is an argument that Cobus Reinach, despite his incredible ability, has not had the opportunity he deserves in international rugby. He has been mainly used as a backup on the international stage, from when he made his debut in 2014, victim of the incredible depth South Africa has at scrum-half.
Faf de Klerk and Herschel Jantjies both come above him in the pecking order, but his inclusion in the squad is still a ‘must’ if South Africa want to have the best chance of beating the British and Irish Lions. Nominated for Premiership Player of the Year in 2019, alongside compatriot, De Klerk, Cobus Reinach was scintillating for Northampton and has brought this form to a struggling Montpellier in the TOP 14 this season. He has been required to fill in at fly-half for Montpellier and it is this versatility, coupled with his exceptional pace, that makes him a ‘must-have’ for the Springboks going towards the Lions Tour.
Handre Pollard (Fly-half)
There is no doubt that, when fit, Handre Pollard is one of the best fly-halves in World Rugby. However, after suffering a long-term knee injury, whilst playing for Montpellier against Racing 92 in September, he finds himself in a race against time to be fit to welcome the Lions. Despite the severity of the injury, there is a lot of hope that Pollard will be fit enough to lead the South African backline in Johannesburg on July 21st, in the first test.
Elton Jantjies will be the man ready to take Pollard’s place should he not be fit in time for the tour. A similar player in open field, with a creative edge, Jantjies does, unfortunately, not provide the same nerveless composure from the tee, territory kicking, and game management that Pollard possesses in abundance. Montpellier’s ‘10’ is currently in South Africa, undergoing his rehabilitation and we here at TOP 14 wish him a speedy recovery and hope to see him soon troubling defences, both domestically and internationally.
Dillyn Leyds (Full-back)
La Rochelle full-back Dillyn Leyds is quietly going about his business in the TOP 14 and he could earn a surprise call-up to Rassie Erasmus’ squad this summer. He has some tough competition in the form of Willie Le Roux, normal number one at full-back as well as Bull’s Warrick Gellant.
Last capped in the Rugby Championship, in 2019, Leyds was left out of the Springbok’s winning Rugby World Cup squad. This probably persuaded him to test his ability on different shores. Since he joined La Rochelle, at the beginning of the 2020/21 season, he has been in stellar form, helping Les Corsaires to the summit of the TOP 14 at the turn of the year. The remainder of the season will be a great opportunity for Leyds to stake his claim to Erasmus.
Rynhardt Elstadt (Flanker)
Another TOP 14 star hoping to prove his worth is flanker Rynhardt Elstadt. Dubbed ‘the unluckiest rugby man of 2019’, Elstadt was named as the 32nd man in Rassie Erasmus’ Rugby World Cup squad, missing out on a place and eventually, a winners medal, by one spot.
He has been performing at a high level for reigning TOP 14 Champions, Toulouse. Exceptional work-rate, tackling skills and an uncanny ability in the loose, he has been at the heart of their recent successes.
But he will have to do very well to oust South Africa’s regular backrows. Captain Siya Kolisi and 2019 World Rugby Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit are a strong partnership at flanker with former Toulon wrecking-ball, Duane Vermeulen at 8, completing a formidable backrow.
François Louw’s retirement after the 2019 Rugby World Cup victory, creates an available spot to be filled in Erasmus’ squad. Elstadt will be hopeful of filling this void. If he can continue to perform for Toulouse in the TOP 14 it will be hard for Erasmus to ignore him.