A total of 26 of the 33 Springboks who won the last Rugby World Cup four years ago in Japan are contenders for a place in the team for the tournament in France which kicks off on 8 September.
And at least 24 of these 26 men will probably be included in the 2023 team that will be announced in Johannesburg on Tuesday. The unfortunate two will most likely be scrum-half Herschel Jantjies and Cobus Reinach; the second and third choice after Faf de Klerk.
“We gave 38 players the opportunity to play in four games. It’s going to be a very difficult selection meeting,” says Springbok head coach Jacques Nienaber.
There are 42 competitors for a place, but captain and flanker Siya Kolisi, star flyhalf Handré Pollard and prop Ox Nche have not yet played this season due to injuries.
A source with inside knowledge of the Springbok camp says Kolisi “looks good” for training matches against Wales in Cardiff on August 19 and against New Zealand in London six days later.
Pollard, who scored 22 points in the last final, is training on his own while recovering from a calf injury. His chance of facing the Red Dragons is “no more than 50%”.
Scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse, whose father died recently, also missed the three Rugby Championship matches and a training match against Argentina at the weekend.
South Africa is grinding its teeth for a record fourth World Cup title and the Springboks are in Group B with Ireland – currently the leading test team – Scotland, Romania and Tonga. Should South Africa and Ireland finish at the top of the group, they will face the winners and runners-up from Group A – almost certainly France and New Zealand.
But before that whistle blows, tough decisions await Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus, SA Rugby’s director of rugby.
Outstanding performances by wings Canan Moodie and Makazole Mapimpi in a 24-13 win in Buenos Aires mean it will be difficult to leave out either the rising star or the veteran.
Should both be included, the man who will move on the shortest end is probably André Esterhuizen; he is fourth in line after the 2019 pair consisting of Lukhanyo Am and Damien de Allende, as well as Jesse Kriel.
However, there are concerns about Am, who left the field at half-time in the game against Argentina and the team doctor who indicated that he “cannot continue” due to a knee injury.
De Klerk will almost certainly be in the starting line-up against Scotland when South Africa launch their group campaign in Marseille on 10 September.
However, there is no agreement on which two of Hendrikse, Jantjies, Reinach and Grant Williams should be the other two scrum-halfs.
Jantjies and Reinach have previous experience at a World Cup, but the dynamic Williams – provided he recovers from concussion – and Hendrikse with his clever kicking foot are also strong contenders.
Malcolm Marx and Bongi Mbonambi are also almost certain of a place in the team; with one starting and the other coming off the bench in the five big games in which the Boks are expected to play.
But will specialist hooker Joseph Dweba or flanker and former hooker Deon Fourie be the third choice? Both know France well; Dweba played for Bordeaux and Fourie for Lyon and Grenoble.
In 2019, the Springboks preferred versatility with loose forward Schalk Brits the third choice for hooker because he had played there before.
Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager, both in the 2019 World Cup starting team, as well as RG Snyman who served as a substitute in Yokohama, also get ticks for France.
Given that loose forwards Pieter-Steph du Toit and Franco Mostert can also play at lock, only one other lock is expected to be selected.
It will be a battle between Marvin Orie and Jean Kleyn who previously played for Ireland but joined the Springboks earlier this year.
There are three places in the starting team with 10 players competing for them. In Japan it was Kolisi, Du Toit and Duane Vermeulen.
If the captain sticks through the games against Wales and/or New Zealand, the same trio could start against the Scots.
Mostert, Kwagga Smith, Jasper Wiese and possibly Fourie may get on the plane at the expense of Jean-Luc du Preez, Evan Roos and Marco van Staden.