Aphiwe Dyantyi and S’bu Nkosi are poised to make their Test debuts against England this Saturday, while Willie le Roux is set to start at fullback, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Johannesburg.
Although Rassie Erasmus has been mindful to avoid using inexperience as an excuse for last Saturday’s loss to Wales in Washington, the fact remains that 13 players earned their first Test caps – seven in the starting lineup, six off the bench.
In what Erasmus has described as an unavoidable need to ‘split his resources’, 15 other frontline players were left behind in Johannesburg to remain rested and ready for the real Test business of June – which is the three-match series against England.
The expected make-up of Erasmus’ starting lineup for Saturday’s Test also became clearer on Monday when the Bok coach confirmed that the Montpellier duo of Frans Steyn and Bismarck du Plessis would not be available for selection this week after recently featuring in the Top 14 final.
During a sunny midday training session on Tuesday, the Boks ran through a number of high-paced drills, with Lions coach Swys de Bruin intensively putting the backs through their paces.
Le Roux is one of the overseas-based players who has been able to spend a bit of time in the Bok camp in recent times, and it’s his experience and impressive form for Wasps that should see him make his first Test start since the 2016 end-of-year tour.
Erasmus revealed this week that the talented, but uncapped wing duo of Nkosi and Dyantyi were set for debuts this Saturday, and although some nerves can be expected, Le Roux should provide a calming influence.
Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am also missed the trip to the USA, and are set to start in the midfield, while Faf de Klerk and Handré Pollard will form another new-look combination at 9-10.
Of the other players who remained in South Africa, a loose trio of Duane Vermeulen, Jean-Luc du Preez and captain Siya Kolisi virtually picks itself, but it’s in the second row where RG Snyman is likely to earn a debut as he packs down alongside Franco Mostert.
Of course, Pieter-Steph du Toit is another viable option at No 5, but one would expect the versatile forward to feature off the bench after captaining the Boks in Washington last Saturday.
With Du Plessis unavailable for the opening Test – he and Steyn had yet to arrive in Bok camp by Tuesday afternoon – Erasmus has strongly hinted that Bongi Mbonambi will wear the No 2 jersey this Saturday despite an extended injury-enforced absence this year.
Should Erasmus opt for a front row of Beast Mtawarira, Mbonambi and Trevor Nyakane, his much-spoken intent to meet transformation goals will be most aptly reflected in the merit-based selection of possibly as many as seven black Africans in the starting lineup.
Erasmus will need to strike a careful balance in terms of his bench selections, but what is clear is that players’ recent form and a desire for balance in experience will be the key criteria to selection when the Bok match-day squad for the series-opening Test is named on Thursday.
Springboks (probable) – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Photo: Sydney Seshibedi Gallo Images