A Springbok blend led by Siya Kolisi and combining youth with battle-hardened experience was named on Monday to launch South Africa’s bid to win a third Rugby World Cup.
Thirteen of the squad have played at a Rugby World Cup before with flanker Francois Louw (pictured), talismanic prop Tendai Mtawarira and 32-year-old centre Frans Steyn on the verge of appearing at their third tournaments.
Louw and Mtawarira both played at the tournaments in 2011 and 2015, while Steyn's relationship with the Rugby World Cup stretches back to 2007 when he became the youngest player to lift the Webb Ellis Cup. He did not play at England 2015.
Fourteen of the squad have made their test debut since then, while six of those have been capped in the past two seasons under director of rugby Rassie Erasmus. The half dozen are Herschel Jantjies, Cheslin Kolbe, Sbu Nkosi, Makazole Mapimpi, Kwagga Smith and RG Snyman.
There are five players with more than 50 caps – Eben Etzebeth, Willie le Roux, Louw, Steyn and Mtawarira – the latter being the most experienced player in the squad with 110 caps.
“I am very happy with the squad we have been able to select,” said Erasmus.
“We have been developing this squad since the start of last season and in the 31 we have a good balance of established experience and some exciting youth.
“We set out with the goal of growing the depth of the squad and I am confident that any of this 31 can step into a play-off match at the Rugby World Cup and deliver an outstanding performance.”
The Springboks have given opportunities to 60 players in 18 tests in the past two years to arrive at their 2019 combination.
All 31 – apart from Kolisi who only returned from injury nine days ago – appeared at some point in the recent Rugby Championship-winning campaign.
The squad is split between 14 backs and 17 forwards and only seven have fewer than 10 caps – Lukhanyo Am, Warrick Gelant, Jantjies, Kolbe, Nkosi and Smith. Gelant, Kolbe, Nkosi and Smith are part of a 14-strong contingent in the squad to have graduated to the senior stage via the World Rugby U20 Championship.
Back-row Smith is, of course, also well-known for his exploits on the World Rugby Sevens Series and makes it into the squad having only made his 15s debut in June last year.
“We’ve been working towards this moment for the best part of two years and we’ve been lucky in achieving most of our goals this season,” said Erasmus.
“We’ve been able to give everyone in the squad some good game time as well as develop combinations with squad rotation and not lose momentum as we go to the World Cup.
“But the results and performances up to now will mean nothing once we are in Japan. It is a case of back to square one; putting in the work on the training field and in the planning sessions to build on what we have achieved.”
The Springboks open their Rugby World Cup 2019 campaign against New Zealand in Yokohama on Saturday, 21 September before further Pool B matches against Namibia (28 September), Italy (4 October) and Canada (8 October).
South Africa squad for Rugby World Cup 2019
Forwards: Schalk Brits, Lood de Jager, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Siya Kolisi (captain), Francois Louw, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi, Franco Mostert, Tendai Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, Kwagga Smith, RG Snyman, Duane Vermeulen.
Backs: Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Faf de Klerk, Warrick Gelant, Elton Jantjies, Herschel Jantjies, Cheslin Kolbe, Jesse Kriel, Willie le Roux, Makazole Mapimpi, Sbu Nkosi, Handré Pollard, Cobus Reinach, Frans Steyn.