South Africa A class of 2017 against French Barbarians: What happened to them?

  • The South Africa A team that played two games against the French Barbarians in 2017 may have drifted into memory, but it played a crucial role in the development of several current Boks.
  • One of them was Ox Nche, who has now evolved into a world-class loosehead prop and one who plays regular Test rugby.
  • The South Africa A side will have two games against Munster and the Bristol Bears next month.

The fact that the South Africa A side was last outfitted against the French Barbarians back in 2017 speaks to how infrequently used that platform has been in the past five years.

A packed calendar and Covid-19 meant the experiment simply had no time to be fitted into a schedule that’s already problematic from a player welfare perspective.

Indeed, the years 2016 and 2017 were rich for the team coached by then-Lions mentor Johan Ackermann.

Ackermann was chest-deep in his successful spell with the Lions that saw him reach two consecutive Super Rugby finals.

The 2016 series against the England Saxons – which saw matches being played in Bloemfontein and George while the Boks were on duty against Ireland – was lost 2-0.

The 2017 group against the French Barbarians had a clean-sweep in the same way the Boks, coached by Allister Coetzee, swept the dour French 3-0.

From the 2016 group, seven players proceeded to become Springboks while five others were already capped by then.

The 2017 group had a mix of youth and experience, with capped Springboks, along with a group of in-form players and some who were bubbling under.

Here’s what happened to them:

Lwazi Mvovo

Mvovo, who played at fullback and wing in both games, had played the last of his 17 Tests, but was still an experienced asset in terms of guiding the youngsters in this group and at the Sharks. He retired in 2021 at the age of 34.

Warrick Gelant

Gelant, who has played bit-part roles for the Boks as a World Cup winner and a starring one for the Stormers in last season’s United Rugby Championship, was at the Bulls during this period.

His stay there was a fruitful one, but one that was also plagued by untimely injuries. He would go on to make his debut against Italy later that year and has featured nine more times since.

Ruan Combrinck

The bruising Lions winger had featured in seven Tests for the Boks in 2016 and that would be it for him. The A-team games were to be his highest point as he drifted into nothingness overseas before resurfacing for a short stint at the Bulls.

Juan de Jongh

De Jongh was captain in the first game and came off the bench in the second, but had already missed the Bok bus by then.

He’d already played the last of his 19 Tests as Heyneke Meyer, the Bok coach between 2012 and 2015, hardly looked in his direction.

He moved to Wasps and came back to Western Province, where he mostly features for the Currie Cup side.

Harold Vorster, Francois Venter, and Lionel Mapoe

A limited, but effective domestic midfielder, playing for SA A has been the highest point for Vorster, who is now at the Bulls.

Venter was playing some decent rugby at this point and went on to play a few more Tests for the Boks that year.

The emergence of Lukhanyo Am as a Test-class 13 ended him, but he’s back in SA rugby with the Sharks after the Worcester Warriors’ financial difficulties meant he had to leave.

Mapoe, who is now at the Bulls, was also a victim of the Bok coaching circumstances where he wasn’t trusted by Meyer and Coetzee.

Juan de Jongh, Lionel Mapoe, Francois Venter and U

Juan de Jongh, Lionel Mapoe, Francois Venter and Uzair Cassiem

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Makazole Mapimpi

He was cooking at this level and was already showing the form that made him hot property at Border, the Southern Kings, the Cheetahs, and the Sharks.

He’s the first-choice starter at left wing for the Boks and seems to play with an endless tank of energy.

Seabelo Senatla

Senatla, who is established at the Stormers, has moved well between sevens and the 15-man code and was on the door of Bok selection.

Mapimpi has welded that door shut.

Lionel Cronje and Fred Zeilinga

Both talented schoolboy rugby players, they can best be described as journeymen players who fill a role that’s needed at a particular time.

Cronje was the form No 10 behind Elton Jantjies that year while Zeilinga’s playing time was sporadic. They’re both back at the Sharks now.

Handre Pollard

Pollard was working himself back from a long-term injury when he came off the bench for both of these games.

He was still at the Bulls at the time and even in his Test appearances that year, he still looked well off the pace.

He worked his way back to fitness to become the Boks’ number-one flyhalf, but he’s currently sidelined by an injury that may rule him out of next month’s four Tests in Europe.

Jano Vermaak and Dewaldt Duvenhage

Vermaak was capped three times by the Boks between 2012 and 2013, but by 2017, was a desperate fit as SA’s scrumhalf stocks dwindled.

Duvenhage was at the Stormers at this juncture and was at best adequate. He now plays for Benetton and has featured frequently against South African teams in the URC.

Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Andisa Ntsila, Ruan Ackermann, Uzair Cassiem and Chris Cloete

These four loosies shared playing duties in this game and their fortunes have been very different.

Notshe, who was at the Stormers before moving to the Sharks, went from strength to strength, getting his Bok caps in 2018 and was a Bok shoo-in in 2021 before a knee injury put him at the back of the queue.

South Africa A hooker Ramone Samuels

South Africa A hooker Ramone Samuels

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Ntsila moved between the Kings, Cheetahs, and the Sharks and has been a loyal operator in Bloemfontein.

Ackermann followed his dad to Gloucester and while his father moved on, he remained and played well.

Cassiem had an excellent 2016 and 2017 in domestic rugby, something that earned him eight Bok caps. He’s now with Bayonne in France.

Cloete, who is now with Bath, has moved around a fair bit, with his stay in Munster being one of his memorable ones.

Ruan Botha, Jason Jenkins, and Andries Ferreira

These three locks were more than serviceable for their respective franchises. Pieter-Steph du Toit’s return to the Western Cape meant Botha, who is now playing for the Kubota Spears, had to move to Durban to get game time.

He was pretty decent there before leaving the franchise in 2019.

Jenkins, a talented second-rower, was overshadowed by RG Snyman at the Bulls, but was excellent in his own right. He’s now at Leinster and is proving to be an asset to them.

Ferreira, who was with the Lions at this juncture, is now with French D2 side US Carcassonne.

Ramone Samuels and Franco Marais.

Samuels was stuck in a pitched battle at hooker at the Stormers with Scarra Ntubeni, who featured for South Africa A the year before. Samuels is currently unattached and runs a funeral parlour with his brother Damian Willemse.

Marais was a reasonable hooker at the Sharks and is now at Red Hurricanes in Japan after he left Gloucester in England.

Ox Nche

Ox Nche

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Wilco Louw, Thomas du Toit, Ox Nche, and Trevor Nyakane

With hindsight, this is one development that has benefitted South African rugby the most. Nche was still in his development stages at the Cheetahs and scored a wonderful try in the second game at the Orlando Stadium.

Now that he’s at the Sharks, Nche’s evolved into one of South Africa’s premier scrummagers and a regular at Test level, with the same applying to Nyakane.

Nyakane was in and out of the Bok group at the time, but has established himself as one of the most important front rowers in the Bok group.

Louw and Du Toit have, not by their ability, suffered through the excellence of the above two props.

Louw, who is at Harlequins, remains a Test-class prop while Du Toit, who is the Sharks captain in Am’s absence, has to bide his time while Frans Malherbe, Nyakane, and Vincent Koch monopolise the tighthead prop berth.


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