Bok coach Jacques Nienaber has acknowledged there is very little that separates the three World Cup-winning scrumhalves in the national squad. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
It says a lot about the trust the Springbok coaches have earned from South Africa’s rugby-loving public that very few doubts were cast over the selections for the first Test against the British & Irish Lions.
Perhaps that’s to be expected considering that 21 players in the match 23 featured in the Springboks’ triumphant World Cup campaign in Japan in 2019.
However, there can be no getting away from the fact that backing Kwagga Smith at No 8 is a bold move, while opting to start with Ox Nche and Trevor Nyakane in the front row is another ballsy decision.
Even entrusting Makazole Mapimpi with the No 11 jersey after his period of Covid-19-enforced isolation and limited game time prior to this Test series speaks volumes about the value placed on World Cup-winning stars.
For example, Lood de Jager, who started in the World Cup final, comes on to the bench despite only recently recovering from a serious injury, while Herschel Jantjies and Elton Jantjies – who were also part of the victorious journey in Japan – are included among the substitutes, too.
Elton Jantjies is preferred to Morne Steyn despite the latter completing a remarkable career revival at the Bulls. Herschel Jantjies was the backup scrumhalf at the World Cup, and retains that role this Saturday.
It comes at a time when many might argue that Steyn and Reinach are players currently in better form, but Nienaber was emphatic in stating that team selections had been “planned carefully” and with “continuity” and “combinations” in mind.
“What we’re looking for, is for those players who’ve been there before to give us guidance and steadiness and a calm head and find solutions, because I think there will be a couple of new pictures which will be thrown our way and we will have to be forced to make solutions on the day,” Nienaber said.
“Probably with that then, and the experience that we have, we’re looking for them to provide us with that. Some of the players didn’t have Covid-19 symptoms at all, they have been managed according to their individual needs, and they have really impressed me with their intensity and enthusiasm at training,” he added.
Touching specifically on the omission of Reinach, the Bok coach suggested it was not a decision taken lightly.
“Cobus was phenomenal for us in the games that he played and I think we are very fortunate in South Africa to have three quality scrumhalves like we have currently,” he said.
“He could start in Saturday’s Test and there wouldn’t be an eyebrow raised. That’s the quality of Cobus and it’s the same for the other two players.
“Unfortunately for Cobus, we went with this pairing, but they will also know that they need to perform. It’s probably consistency in selection and building on that, but he is banging on the door very hard and kicking his way through.
“I think that’s nice for us in the squad that we have is that there is massive pressure coming from all over.”