Rugby Championship state of play 2019: South Africa
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By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 17/07/19 10:36am
South Africa begin their 2019 Rugby Championship campaign by hosting Australia in Johannesburg on July 20, live on Sky Sports.
The Springboks still boast some superb talent and customary physical size in their ranks, and are coming off the back of a somewhat redemptive, if inconsistent 2018.
From July 20, we will see what they are made of as they take on Australia at home, before travelling to face defending champions New Zealand and Argentina - in a reduced format of the Rugby Championship - ahead of Rugby World Cup 2019.
After that, they will host the Pumas at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria before all attentions turn to Japan.
Below, we take a look at the state of play in South Africa ahead of the tournament's beginning...
2018 to signal a redemption?
Having limped through two ill-fated years under Allister Coetzee, 2018 proved one which signalled far more promise for the Springboks.
A record of seven Test victories from 14 Tests is not all that impressive on paper, but take a closer look and there are several moments to take note of.
Starting their year with defeat to Wales in the USA in June - a game which hardly warranted Test status, owing to the strength of the respective sides picked - South Africa then convincingly beat England 2-1, having gone 2-0 ahead before losing the deadrubber, in a home three-Test series.
The Rugby Championship saw a bright start with a comfortable home win over Argentina, before the Boks fell off the rails a bit with defeats away to Argentina and Australia, before travelling to face defending champions New Zealand.
In Wellington, South Africa produced a stunning display to shock the All Blacks and win 36-34. They followed that win up with a home defeat of Australia before managing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at home to New Zealand on the final day in an agonising last-gasp loss - again after a highly impressive performance.
In November, South Africa played England off the park in a game they scarcely deserved to lose, but succumbed by a point at Twickenham, as Angus Gardner failed to punish Owen Farrell for a shoulder charge in the closing stages, before recording wins over France in Paris and Scotland in Edinburgh.
They finished their year with a defeat at would-be Six Nations Grand Slam champions Wales, but the feeling of hope and confidence has returned to the Boks under Rassie Erasmus - of that there is no doubt.
Importance of Europe-based players
One of the main differences in the Springbok set-up over the last year under Erasmus, compared to the preceding years under Coetzee, has been the selection of European-based players.
Under the latter, there was a firm 30-cap policy introduced where players abroad must have played at least 30 times for the Boks to be illegible. But despite this, almost zero players abroad were picked in the set-up regardless of previous experience between 2016 and 2018.
By direct contrast, Erasmus' first task when he took charge was the June 2018 three-Test series with England in South Africa, and the former Munster head coach selected Willie Le Roux (then Wasps), Faf de Klerk (Sale Sharks) and Duane Vermuelen (then Toulon) not only within the squad - but as key men within his starting XV.
The trio had been ignored by Coetzee after they had moved to Europe, but each of them thrived in that summer series as the Boks overcame England 2-1.
Since then, Erasmus has brought the likes of Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse), Vincent Koch (Saracens) and Francois Louw (Bath) into the fold, while in the most recent squad, tMarcell Coetzee (Ulster), Francois Steyn (Montpellier), Franco Mostert (Gloucester), Rynardt Elstadt (Toulouse) and Cobus Reinach (Northampton) have also been picked.
The 30-cap rule appears to have been scrapped as South Africa and Erasmus turn their full focus towards the World Cup and picking the best players available.
It has and may result in an ever increasing player-drain from South African clubs, but it undoubtedly aids the Test team.
Captain Kolisi a World Cup doubt?
One of the main figureheads and symbols of this upturn in South Africa fortunes has been back-row and skipper Siya Kolisi - the first ever black Test captain of the Springboks no less.
A knee injury means the 28-year-old is likely to miss both of the Boks' opening games against Australia and away to New Zealand, however, with head coach Erasmus confirming they will tread carefully with Kolisi.
His absence is likely to be keenly felt.
"We will probably be a bit conservative with Siya to make sure he is ready for the World Cup, which is the most important part of the year," Erasmus said.
"I think if we push him now to go with us to New Zealand, we might end up with more than a 50 per cent chance that he won't go with us to the World Cup.
"We have a few players who need game time, who we want to consider for captaincy.
"Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit haven't played a lot lately; both need game time and might be considered for the captaincy, while we also have the likes of Duane Vermeulen, Steven Kitshoff and Malcolm Marx, all of whom have captained their respective franchise teams this season."
If there's one area of play that will be concerning South Africa followers, it is perhaps their lineout.
The Lions' Malcolm Marx has proven a wonderful player around the park - his breakdown prowess and physical strength both in the carry and defence has been superb - but his lineout throwing has been a different story.
The hooker has been guilty of letting possession slip at crucial times within major Tests, cases in point being the 12-11 November defeat to England at Twickenham - a game the Boks dominated - and further losses to New Zealand and Argentina.
Marx has shown signs of consistency in his throw during the latest Super Rugby campaign, but it's in the crunch moments when he will really be tested.
Can the Boks forward pack as a whole ensure their set-piece won't hamper them in 2019? Shore it up and they will be a very hard nut to crack.
South Africa's 39-man Rugby Championship squad
Forwards (22): Schalk Brits, Marcell Coetzee, Lood de Jager, Thomas du Toit, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Rynardt Elstadt, Eben Etzebeth, Lizo Gqoboka, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Siya Kolisi, Francois Louw, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira, Franco Mostert, Trevor Nyakane, Marvin Orie, Kwagga Smith, RG Snyman, Duane Vermeulen.
Backs (17): Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Andre Esterhuizen, Faf de Klerk, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Warrick Gelant, Elton Jantjies, Herschel Jantjies, Cheslin Kolbe, Jesse Kriel, Dillyn Lleyds, Makazole Mapimpi, Sibusiso Nkosi, Willie le Roux, Handre Pollard, Cobus Reinach, Frans Steyn.