With one week to go before the Springboks and All Blacks clash at Mbombela Stadium, DYLAN JACK previews the looming battle of the tight fives.
Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth vs Sam Whitelock and Scott Barrett
Springbok lock pair De Jager and Etzebeth were the driving force in South Africa’s 2019 World Cup and 2021 Lions Series victories. While De Jager has had his share of injury setbacks, he found a purple patch of form during the series victory over Wales in July.
Etzebeth earned his 100th Test cap for the Springboks in the third Test of the series in Cape Town, marking the occasion with a man-of-the-match performance. One of the most experienced members of the Bok team, Etzebeth has faced the All Blacks 17 times in his career and will be eager to add to his tally of three wins against the old rivals.
⚡️ Lood de Jager pic.twitter.com/K4FMDyzhsj
— Jared Wright (@jaredwright17) July 4, 2022
The youngest @Springboks centurion 🇿🇦
Eben Etzebeth: a titan in the second row 💪 pic.twitter.com/bDn37xeqW7
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) July 16, 2022
All Blacks centurion Sam Whitelock will be without regular second row partner Brodie Retallick, after the enforcer was ruled out of the South African mini-tour due to injury. While he is coming towards the back end of his career, Whitelock is still a crafty lineout operator and a formidable force with ball in hand.
Partnering Whitelock will likely be Scott Barrett, shifting back to the second row after being utilised at blindside flank during the series loss to Ireland. Barrett has come under fire for his recent lack of discipline and was fortunate to escape a ban for a dangerous no-arms charge at Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony. The athletic 28-year-old will be counted on to keep his focus away from the argy-bargy against the Boks.
Frans Malherbe vs George Bower
Perhaps the most underappreciated player in the Bok pack, Malherbe is a technical scrum master and has been South Africa’s first-choice tighthead in the Rassie Erasmus era. If given the opportunity, Malherbe suffocates the life out of the opposing loosehead in the scrums, while he is an incredibly hard worker on defence.
This was probably the only thing Frans Malherbe wanted to talk about this morning… pic.twitter.com/i6CrAkPXRZ
— IG: johngoliath (@JohnGoliath82) September 16, 2018
George Bower has only faced the Springboks once before, coming off the bench in the loss to South Africa at Gold Coast in Australia. The 30-year-old Crusaders player came under heat for some lackadaisical defending in the third Test loss to Ireland, but remains the strongest contender for the starting loosehead position for the All Blacks.
Bongi Mbonambi vs Codie Taylor
Bongi Mbonambi’s 50th Test was somewhat overshadowed as it came in the same match as Etzebeth’s 100th, but the Sharks hooker made it memorable by powering over for a first-half try against Wales. The 31-year-old has been a pillar of consistency in the Bok front row since 2019 and gets through a mountain of work on attack and defence. His no-nonsense approach will be key to the Boks’ hopes of getting a rare home double over the All Blacks.
The first Springboks try of the 2022 season ✅
Bongi Mbonambi gets his 10th international try. Damian Willemse converts ✅
— SuperSport 🏆 (@SuperSportTV) July 2, 2022
So often a bundle of energy for the All Blacks, Codie Taylor looked out of form in the latter two Tests against Ireland, struggling with accuracy at both the lineout and whenever he mixed it with the backline out wide. At his best, the 31-year-old’s turn of pace makes him a major threat in space, but he will be wary of Tongan-born Samisoni Taukeiaho knocking on the door for a starting spot.
Magic from Codie Taylor and Will Jordan 💥
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) September 25, 2021
Ox Nche vs Tyrel Lomax
Such is the competitiveness in the front row, that it could come down to a coin toss as to who starts between Trevor Nyakane and Ox Nche, but the latter may be given a chance to reclaim his place after being left out of the third Test against Wales entirely. Nche is utterly destructive with ball in hand, but has also upped his scrumming ability in recent years and dominated in this department for the Sharks.
Ox Nche doing what Ox Nche does best 💥🎂
A massive hit from the Springbok prop on England’s Bevan Rodd! pic.twitter.com/AzI0IS1hUY
— SuperSport 🏆 (@SuperSportTV) November 21, 2021
Injuries have robbed the All Blacks of tightheads Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tu’ungafasi, while Angus Ta’avao is still working his way back from suspension. This means that either one of Tyrel Lomax or Fletcher Newell will be forced into the starting lineup against one of the strongest scrums in the world. Lomax is likely to get the nod as he has 14 Test caps to his name compared to Newell, an uncapped rookie.
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images