The strength in depth from the South Africa squad is frightening, writes RW columnist Paul Williams

The writer of this column has been called plenty of names on Twitter over the years – an illiterate, unknowledgeable, offload-loving, centre-obsessed clown, being a reasonably accurate summation of the feedback.

And it would be difficult to argue with any of that. However, more recently the pejoratives have centred around being a South African rugby sycophant. To which my usual response is to swig a double brandy and coke, and chew on a 2kg bag of biltong whilst the Braai warms up. But in all seriousness, it’s difficult not to be enamoured with South African rugby now and excited about its future – both with good reason.

Related: England squad to tour New Zealand revealed

They are of course the current World Champions and the number one ranked team in the world, which is usually a good enough reason to be enticed by any Test team. But their charms extend beyond lifting trophies and topping rankings.

Their squad announcement for the July series against Ireland was different to any other nation playing in the upcoming test windows. When everyone else announced their squads, we all looked at who WAS selected, but with the Boks we also marveled at who WASN’T – although we did all also wonder why Hoskins Sotutu didn’t make the All Blacks’ squad.

South Africa squad: Who was left at home

In terms of the players who weren’t included, this doesn’t mean those who are injured. Which is an incredible list of players in its own right – Steven Kitshoff (prop), Jean Kleyn, Lood de Jager (both locks), Cameron Hanekom (loose forward), Jaden Hendrikse (scrum-half), Henco van Wyk (centre), Canan Moodie and Damian Willemse (both utility backs). 

Related: All the Summer Tour fixtures and kick-off times

The real indication of the strength of this South African squad is contained within the list of players on standby:

Forwards: Jean-Luc du Preez (Sale Sharks), Joseph Dweba, Neethling Fouche (both DHL Stormers), Celimpilo Gumede, Elrigh Louw, Wilco Louw (all Vodacom Bulls), Ntuthuko Mchunu (Hollywoodbets Sharks), Ruben van Heerden (DHL Stormers), Andre-Hugo Venter (DHL Stormers). 

Backs: Suleiman Hartzenberg (DHL Stormers), Jordan Hendrikse (Emirates Lions), Ethan Hooker (Hollywoodbets Sharks), Quan Horn (Emirates Lions), Siya Masuku (Hollywoodbets Sharks)

Elrich Louw of the Vodacom Bulls

Elrich Louw of the Vodacom Bulls runs with the ball during the Currie Cup (Photo by Gallo Images/Getty Images)

That Elrich Louw can’t get in the squad proper is quite remarkable. His form in the URC over the past two seasons has been exemplary. He dominates the contact area in a manner not usually seen outside of prison walls and has the size and pace required for Test rugby. His handling skills are also first class as was shown by Johan Goosen’s repeated use of Louw as the ‘wide receiver’ in many of the Bulls’ kick-pass plays this season.

But his exclusion, whilst incredible, is understandable, when you consider that Evan Roos is the man in front of him. Roos is a player whose core functions would not look out of place on a product catalogue at Lockheed Martin and he is arguably the most likely long-term replacement for Duane Vermeulen – although Hanekom will have plenty to say on that matter.

But the real sense of depth in the Bok squad can’t truly be appreciated until you see their tighthead stocks. The Boks stock tightheads like the British stocked toilet roll during the pandemic.

That Wilco Louw and Neethling Fouche aren’t in the Bok squad proper is insane – they would start for pretty much every other nation. Fouche in particular had an incredible season in the URC and helped the Stormers win more scrum penalties than any other team in the competition – they created 50 scrum penalties, which is double most teams in the league and 14 more than the next best. 

Then, of course, there’s the Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu factor, who starts on the bench in a 6-2 bench Bok split for the first test against Ireland. He’s big, powerful, rapid, with great lateral movement, and a shoulder that could topple one of those giant American fridge freezers. Yet, he is a player that remarkably few outside of South Africa are aware of. That will change very soon.

Related: South Africa squad to play Ireland this summer

The Ireland squad under the microscope

But none of this love for South Africa can displace the quality of this current Ireland squad. They are to all intents and purposes South Africa’s equals with the last two meetings between the two going Ireland’s way, with a combined points difference of eight points.

You’d need half a flake of dandruff to separate them, as their results over the past few seasons have shown. And let’s not forget Ireland are also coming fully loaded with some next-gen superstars.

In Joe McCarthy, Ireland have a lock who can not only dominate rugby for the next ten years, but could also walk straight into a Marvel film. He’s a lock of South African proportions and the type of player that many of the northern hemisphere squads struggle to produce.

In Cormac Izuchukwu and Ryan Baird, Ireland have the opportunity to create two genuine mould-breaking lock/six hybrids. Their all-round games are quite incredible for such young players and their ability to attack and defend with the same level of quality is a rarity.

Composed Crowley comes of age

Jack Crowley applauds the fans after Ireland’s win in France.(Getty)

Then there’s Jack Crowley and Sam Prendergast at outside-half. Whilst most Test coaches are staring at the depth chart and wondering where their next young ten is coming from, Ireland have two coming though at the same time.

The whole of Ireland was nervously downing stout (with an ABV of 4.2%) at the thought of Johnny Sexton retiring, but in the next 12 months, with both Crowley and Prendergast, that beer fear will dissipate.

Related: All the Summer Tour fixtures and kick-off times

Who will win: South Africa or Ireland?

But as with all great sporting rivalries, it’s not really a rivalry until it spills off the pitch and into our homes. And that’s exactly what is happening with the Springboks v Ireland.

The Boks’ social media has already created some very potent content, which is fantastic for the game. We don’t quite want rugby’s pre-match content to become like that of a pre-fight boxing bout, with headbutts and right-hands. But a few verbal jabs are exactly what the game needs to make a dent in a claustrophobic sporting calendar.

Plus, let’s not forget the cross pollination of coaching staff between South African and Irish rugby at both club and Test level. South African and Irish rugby swap stuff like pen pals from the 1980s, which in itself creates another level of rivalry. 

I predict that it will be 2-0 to the Boks over Ireland, and they will also go on to become winners of The Rugby Championship – which may not be popular with some. But it’s currently difficult not to fall in love with South African rugby at both Test and URC level.

And that’s before we mention the fact that Rassie Erasmus has the unique opportunity to select Cheslin Kolbe, Edwill van der Merwe and Kurt-Lee Arendse, and in doing so create the world’s first ‘headgear back three’. Hope you enjoy the game, Paul Willemse.

What do you think of the South Africa squad set to play Ireland this summer? Let us know on social media or email

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