There are injury concerns elsewhere, but the fact that bthe Springboks will head into the British & Irish Lions series with the most lethal wing combination in world rugby is a source of solace, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
On Friday night, Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber would have cringed at the sight of Duane Vermeulen hobbling from the field with a serious ankle injury expected to rule him out of the Lions series.
Later on in the weekend, you’d have also forgiven them for uttering a few more expletives when they learned that Damian de Allende and RG Snyman had suffered ‘substantial burns’ after a fire-pit incident with their Munster teammates.
It’s certainly not the sort of news the Bok coaches need with less than a month to go until the B&I Lions tour gets under way in South Africa.
Conversely, though, there was one individual performance on Saturday that would have left them with smiles beaming from ear to ear.
Makazole Mapimpi, who had been quietly going about his business in Japan for most of the year, returned to the Sharks for his first game back in South Africa after a sabbatical, and immediately looked like a million bucks.
Mapimpi’s conditioning has never been in question, but there were certainly signs to suggest that his stint in Japan served him well in terms of allowing his body a break from the rigours of high-impact rugby week in and week out.
It’s a frightening prospect, and it might be premature to suggest, but there were little indicators this past Saturday that Mapimpi is actually a better player than he was when he left South African shores.
He will soon turn 31 years old, but Mapimpi – who only made his Test debut at the age of 27 – is a player with the strength and conditioning to quite comfortably play through to the next World Cup and beyond.
Once blessed primarily with just out-and-out pace, he is now a more mature player with real game smarts. He has been a key figure in Nienaber’s ‘wings-in’ defensive system, and has vastly developed his abilities under the high ball.
His confidence and work rate have him now finding the right times to move off his wing and into more positions to influence the game, as illustrated when the No 11 popped up on the right-hand side of the field on Saturday to help create a try.
On one wing, the Sharks will have a real physical specimen, a powerful runner and well-rounded gamebreaker who offers multiple threats.
On the other side of the field, there will be none other than Cheslin Kolbe, another Springbok who could quite rightly be regarded as an improved player from the one that still set the World Cup alight in 2019.
Kolbe’s form for French club Toulouse over the past 18 months has only added to the widely held belief that he is the most lethal backline player in world rugby right now.
When the British & Irish Lions ramp up their preparations for the Springbok series, they will undoubtedly have identified Kolbe as a key danger man whose impact on the game they will need to nullify if they are to have any success in South Africa.
Kolbe is the sort of player who hovers dangerously in open play, waiting for his moment to bring himself into play and act as a strike runner.
He loves to go looking for work, and has developed a tackle technique to ensure he is in fact more of a threat than a liability on defence.
If you were picking a World XV, it’s impossible to imagine any neutral selector wouldn’t opt for both Mapimpi and Kolbe on the wings.
And so, while there may be concerns for the Springboks elsewhere, the ever-impressive form of Mapimpi and Kolbe remains a standout source of comfort ahead of the Lions tour.