Lambie is safe bet at 10

Pat Lambie may be the Springboks’ best starting-flyhalf option in the short term given Elton Jantjies’s ongoing battle with a finger injury, writes JON CARDINELLI.

Will Jantjies start against Ireland in the first match of the three-Test series? Coach Allister Coetzee remains hopeful that his first-choice flyhalf will be ready for the game at Newlands on Saturday.

On Monday, the Bok medical team confirmed that Jantjies will be monitored closely over the course of the week. A final call on the flyhalf’s availability will be made on Thursday. The Bok match 23 will be named on the same day.

The Boks trained at the Belhar Rugby Club on Monday afternoon. All 31 members of the South African squad were in attendance, and all were well supported by a vocal and enthusiastic crowd.

Jantjies, Lambie and Garth April all took turns running at flyhalf. It was Lambie, however, who spent the majority of the session in the position.

Earlier on Monday, Bok team doctor Conrad von Hagen said that Jantjies would not take contact at training until later in the week. At the afternoon training session in Belhar, Jantjies featured but didn’t take the ball to the line. He appeared to be wary of exposing his right hand. The good news is that the injury did not inhibit his passing game.

That said, Coetzee will have a big decision to make in the coming days. If Jantjies is deemed unfit to start, then it may be better for the player and the team that he doesn’t feature in the match 23 at all.

If Jantjies comes off the bench to replace Lambie in the first Test, and is subsequently forced to leave the field after aggravating that existing injury, the Boks will be in trouble. In that scenario, a player like Willie le Roux may have to step in at first-receiver.

The safer option may be to start Lambie and include April on the bench. Of course, the Boks would be in another spot of bother if Lambie went down with an injury in the first 10 minutes and the uncapped April then had to play the bulk of the Test. At the unveiling of the Test squad on 28 May, Coetzee said that April’s introduction to Test rugby will be gradual.

We may have to wait until Thursday for Coetzee’s final decision on his starting flyhalf. There should be fewer, if any, big surprises in the rest of the starting side.

The way the team lined up in Belhar on Monday suggests that Faf de Klerk will partner Lambie or Jantjies at Newlands. De Klerk is yet to win a Test cap, but has been the form South African scrumhalf in this year’s Super Rugby tournament.

Damian de Allende should start alongside Lionel Mapoe in the midfield. The latter player was recently cleared of a back injury, and showed no signs of strain during Monday’s session.

Duane Vermeulen and Francois Louw, two overseas-based players who only recently joined the squad, ran with the mock starting side and showed some good touches. The two veterans will have an important supporting role to play in Adriaan Strauss’s first series as captain.

Lood de Jager packed down with Eben Etzebeth in the second row, and appears to be the favourite for the No 5 jersey. That said, Pieter-Steph du Toit ran freely throughout the session, and showed no ill effects of the hamstring injury he sustained in the round 14 Super Rugby game against the Cheetahs.

The Bok medical team initially reported that Du Toit would be sidelined for two to six weeks. The Stormers lock, however, has made good progress with his rehabilitation. Going by how he ran with the ball and jumped in the lineouts at Monday’s session, it wouldn’t surprise to see Du Toit in the match 23 for the first Test against Ireland.

Probable Bok starting XV – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Elton Jantjies/Pat Lambie, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Beast Mtawarira.

Photo: Luigi Bennett/BackpagePix

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Jon Cardinelli