JACQUES NIENABER has picked a Springbok side containing 21 players who were involved in the team’s 2019 World Cup triumph in his 23-man squad for Saturday’s first Test against the British & Irish Lions in Cape Town.
Siya Kolisi returns from Covid isolation to lead the side from flanker, while stand-off Handré Pollard will earn his 50th cap as vice-captain. Nienaber has broken with recent Springbok tradition by selecting a five-three split between forwards and backs on the bench, rather than than six-two ‘bomb squad’ approach favoured during the team’s run to World Cup glory just under two years ago.
Warren Gatland will name his Lions side for the match on Thursday.
Kolisi, wing Makazole Mapimpi and loose-head prop Ox Nché were the last group of players to report for duty at the Springbok camp in Cape Town on Monday morning after completing their mandatory self-isolation in Johannesburg, and they were all cleared to return to the field on Monday afternoon following medical screening.
The entire pack of forwards, the halfback pairing of Pollard and Faf de Klerk, and full-back of Willie le Roux started the Test against Georgia which the Springboks won 40-9 a little over two weeks ago. 13 of the squad members for Saturday played in the Springbok ‘A’ victory over the Lions last Wednesday.
“We have played three matches in the last few weeks with the Springboks facing Georgia and South Africa ‘A’ lining up against the British & Irish Lions and the Vodacom Bulls, and the first two matches in particular allowed us to settle a few player combinations that haven’t played since the Rugby World Cup final,” said Nienaber.
“We planned our team selections carefully, which is why it was important for us to play a third match after the second Test against Georgia was cancelled, and we know what the players we selected can do.
“The fact that most of the players participated in the Rugby World Cup means they know one another well on and off the field, and as coaches we know what they have to offer after having worked with most of them for several years.”
Nienaber allayed concerns that introducing players who had recovered from COVID-19 could place his team at a disadvantage as they prepare to face the best of the best in the northern hemisphere.
“Some of the players didn’t have COVID-19 symptoms at all, they have been managed according their individual needs, and they have really impressed me with their intensity and enthusiasm at training,” he said.
“The well-being of our players is of paramount importance, so we have been working closely with the medical team to work out what would be the best course of action for each player over the three-Test Series.
“The forward battle is going to be as tough as it gets, so it’s important that we pitch up physically and ensure that we make our presence felt in the set pieces and at the contact points,” added the Springbokok coach.
“This, combined with their hard-running backs, will test our defensive system, but we have been looking forward to these matches since the Rugby World Cup concluded and we have done our homework, so it is a case of doing everything at 100% and sticking to our structures.”
South Africa (v the British & Irish Lions @ The Cape Town Stadium, Saturday 5pm BST): W le Roux; C Kolbe, L Am, D de Allende, M Mapimpi; H Pollard, F de Klerk; O Nché, B Mbonambi, T Nyakane, E Etzebeth, F Mostert, S Kolisi, P du Toit, K Smith.
Replacements: M Marx, S Kitshoff, F Malherbe, L de Jager, R Elstadt, H Jantjies, E Jantjies, D Willemse.