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Springboks are raring to go for first Test against Lions, warns Nienaber


Jacques Nienaber talks to his captain Siya Kolisi

Jacques Nienaber talks to his captain Siya Kolisi

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Jacques Nienaber talks to his captain Siya Kolisi

There was something quite fitting about the Springboks naming their side to face the British and Irish Lions on Saturday as early as yesterday lunchtime.

Already set to reveal their hand for the all-important Cape Town encounter a day prior to their visitors, the brains trust behind the world champions brought forward their announcement by a further 24 hours despite the complications caused by a multitude of Covid cases within their camp.

On the one hand, perhaps more so than any other successful side in the world, there are no surprises when it comes to South Africa. A style passed down through the generations, knowing what’s coming and knowing how to stop it are two very different things. 

As such this was a hand straight out of the Lions head coach Warren Gatland’s playbook with the Kiwi frequently naming his Wales sides 48 hours earlier than required during even the biggest of Six Nations weeks. 

The logic is clear — why try to conceal what everyone already knows is coming?

On the other, perhaps this was simply viewed as a selection worth celebrating.

For so long this series seemed like it wouldn’t get off the ground thanks to the pandemic, and then for a time appeared as if it might be dead on arrival as both sides suffered Covid outbreaks after gathering in South Africa, as did two further squads set to play a part in the build-up.

The virus robbed the Springboks of so much of their cycle as world champions — indeed, this is the first time we’ve seen them at such strength since beating England in the final almost two years ago — but here was a side headlined by the inclusion of their inspirational skipper Siya Kolisi, whose participation had been viewed as a huge doubt.

While there was no place for No.8 Duane Vermeulen thanks to injury — his place going instead to Kwagga Smith — 21 of the 23 named were a part of the campaign that landed a third Webb Ellis. 

Until the likes of Kolisi, Makazole Mapimpi and Ox Nche are seen in action, there will be lingering doubts over the impact of the virus, but head coach Jacques Nienaber declared the players ready to go. 

“Some of the players didn’t have Covid-19 symptoms at all, they have been managed according to 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.

“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.

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“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.”

One interesting element to the selection is the 5:3 split on the bench. The famed ‘Bomb Squad’ at the World Cup was the product of stashing six forwards among the replacements but Nienaber has opted for the extra back this time around.

There will be no lack of impact, though, not with Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Lood de Jager and Rynhardt Elstadt all waiting in the wings.

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