Playing selector: Reinach to crack bomb squad?

Not many surprises are expected in the Springboks’ starting lineup for the British & Irish Lions series, but the bench will require some changes. Editor CRAIG LEWIS takes a closer look.

In just over a week, the Springboks will finally return to action in the first of two warm-up matches against Georgia ahead of the British & Irish Lions series.

Amid the gloom of a Covid-19 third wave in South Africa, this prospect is especially appealing for sports lovers who have not seen the Boks in action since the 2019 World Cup final.

As the Springboks approach the all-important series against the Lions, there does appear to a very good possibility that the Boks’ starting XV may feature only one or two changes from the team that hammered England 32-12.

Here is a reminder of that lineup: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.

Of course, Mtawarira has retired and will surely be directly replaced by Steven Kitshoff, while Duane Vermeulen is now unfortunately in a race against time after undergoing ankle surgery.

Should he fail to recover, Marcell Coetzee, Dan du Preez or Jasper Wiese – none of whom were part of the World Cup squad – are alternative options at No 8.

There have been injury clouds over Lood de Jager and Damian de Allende, but both are expected to be available for selection for the Test series.

So, although there are unlikely to be many changes to the core of the Springbok starting XV, the Boks’ famed ‘bomb squad’ will require some adjustments.

To rewind, this is how the subs lined up in the World Cup final: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Franco Mostert, 21 Francois Louw, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Frans Steyn.

At hooker, Mbonambi and Marx are likely to continue sharing a similar amount of game time, with the latter offering real impact off the bench.

With Kitshoff moving into the starting lineup, though, it does make things interesting in terms of the team’s prop replacements.

One option could be for Nyakane to occupy the No 17 jersey, and cover loosehead once again. However, considering his successful transition to becoming a highly regarded tighthead in recent years, this may be a big ask.

If Nyakane is primarily viewed as specialist cover for tighthead, it could then come down to a choice between him or Vincent Koch at No 18, while there are versatile alternatives such as Thomas du Toit and Coenie Oosthuizen.

Ox Nche is an out-and-out loosehead, and possesses the mobility and impact value that may make him an appealing bomb-squad option.

If the Springboks do opt to continue with the six-two configuration on the bench, RG Snyman and Franco Mostert should continue to cover lock.

However, if the former doesn’t recover from injury in time, it could force a rethink and perhaps open the door for someone like Jean-Luc du Preez who offers real versatility in his ability to cover both lock and loose forward.

Since the World Cup, Francois Louw has retired, and it would be interesting to see whether Marco van Staden, Kwagga Smith or Wiese are entrusted with that all-important spot on the bench.

Finally, when looking at the backline replacements, World Cup continuity would suggest Herschel Jantjies will continue to provide backup at scrumhalf.

However, it also wouldn’t be surprising if the Bok selectors use the matches against Georgia to have another look at both Jantjies and Cobus Reinach, with very little separating the two World Cup winners.

A number of factors have stalled Jantjies’ consistency since the World Cup, and he has struggled to replicate the insatiable form seen during his breakthrough 2019 season, while most recently he was ruled out of action with the Stormers due to a respiratory problem.

Reinach took some time to settle down after his switch to French club Montpellier, but he has matured into a well-rounded scrumhalf, while still offering plenty of X factor and game-breaking ability.

This is the bench I’d pick:

Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 RG Snyman/Jean-Luc du Preez, 20 Franco Mostert, 21 Jasper Wiese, 22 Cobus Reinach, 23 Frans Steyn.

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Craig Lewis