Bok coach a step closer to starting XV
TOUR SPOTLIGHT: Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber was playing his cards close to his chest, but he dropped a few subtle hints that the starting XV is close to being a done deal.
Nienaber, speaking to the media after the South Africa ‘A’ team lost 14-17 to a fired-up Bulls team at the weekend, said ‘medical evaluations’ will be one of the key drivers in deciding on the team to take on the British and Irish Lions in the first Test of a three-match series at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday.
However, the return to training of three players from COVID-enforced isolation means another one of the Boks’ World Cup winners is back in the mix.
Reports from inside the Bok camp said that hookers Mbongeni Mbonambi and Siyabonga Ntubeni, along with loose forward Dan du Preez, returned to training.
Possible starters still in COVID isolation included captain Siyamthanda Kolisi, prop Retshegofaditswe Nche and wing Makazole Mapimpi.
It is because of players in COVID-lockdown that he used the final warm-up, against the Bulls, to give additional backup players some much-needed game time.
The Bok coach pointed to the fact that two of the three frontline hookers – Mbongeni Mbonambi and Siyabonga Ntubeni – missed the weekend’s loss to the Bulls as a result of COVID protocols.
“We had to see more of Joseph [Dweba – who started in last week’s SA ‘A’ team win over the B&I Lions] and see Fez [Fezokuhle Mbatha], who was drafted into the squad because of the hookers in COVID-19-enforced isolation,” Nienaber told a post-match virtual media briefing.
He added they also managed to get World Cup-winning centre Damian de Allende through 60 minutes, after having recovered from the burns he suffered in a bizarre fire pit incident with his Munster teammates in Ireland last month.
“Damian Willemse also played at No.12 again,” Nienaber said, adding: “We got Elton [Jantjies] through 80 minutes. We also got Albertus [Albertus Smith] through 80 minutes [at No.8].
“A lot of guys who needed more game time got more minutes under the belt.
“Those are the answers we needed.”
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Another player on the verge of a return from injury is veteran fullback Willie le Roux.
The Bok coach said he has had a discussion with the veteran World cup-winning fullback, who assured him that he is ‘fine’.
However, like with all injuries, Le Roux will undergo a medical assessment to see if he has fully recovered from his hamstring strain.
Asked about the performance of rookie fullback Aphelele Fassi in the loss to the Bulls at the weekend, Nienaber said the No.15 – who made his debut against Georgia at Loftus Versfeld just over a fortnight ago – is a talented young player.
“We would not have had him in the squad if we did not think he was good enough,” the coach said of the 23-year-old.
He added that the Sharks back has to work on some aspects of his game to fully acquaint himself with the way the Boks do things.
“The more he is in our environment, the more he will learn.
“He is a talent for the future and if we have to call on him, he will be ready to go.”
Although there are still a few ‘medical posers’ and fitness issues to resolve, the Springboks are likely to field a team very close to that which beat England in the 2019 World Cup Final in Yokohama, Japan.
The obvious issues are in the pack.
No.8 Duane Vermeulen and lock Lodewyk de Jager are both busy with rehabilitation from injuries), while retired prop Tendai Mtawarira needs to be replaced.
Other possible changes could be on the wing and flank – if Mapimpi and skipper Kolisi don’t come out of COVID isolation and pass fitness tests.
Despite playing under the SA ‘A’ team banner, the starting XV that featured in the 17-13 win over the B&I Lions in Cape Town last Wednesday is a good indication of the thought processes of Nienaber and his fellow selectors.
Possible Springbok team: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Sibusiso Nkosi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 20 Albertus Smith, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Jessie Kriel, 23 Damian Willemse.