The first Springbok trial match in 18 years will present a number of exciting players and promising juniors with their first taste of rugby in the green-and-gold jersey, writes DYLAN JACK.
The last Springbok match of this nature took place in 2002, when then Bok coach Rudolf Straeuli looked to separate the men from the boys by reintroducing the concept with a trial at Loftus Versfeld.
Saturday’s match at Newlands is of course drastically different in nature, not least because it will be played in an empty stadium, with stringent lockdown restrictions still preventing fans from attending matches.
For one, the bulk of the players involved are coming out of a Covid-19-enforced six-month lockdown and have played just one warm-up match.
While there are plenty of experienced campaigners in each squad, there is also a fair share of players who have just a handful of Test caps between them, some of whom have spent this week experiencing the Springbok dressing room for the first time in their fledgling careers.
The Green and Gold teams will be captained by Siya Kolisi and Lukhanyo Am, respectively. Kolisi has been desperately short of game time since the 2019 World Cup final, playing just 32 minutes in the Stormers’ opening Super Rugby match before suffering an untimely knee injury.
The Springbok skipper made a solid comeback with a 40-minute run-out against the Lions in Super Fan Saturday at altitude last weekend, but was understandably exhausted after scoring a try just before half time. Saturday’s trial at his home ground will give him a chance of perhaps picking up an hour’s worth of game time as he continues to regain his match fitness.
Am, meanwhile, gets an opportunity to reinforce his credentials as a Test captain, after having already proven himself a more than capable leader at franchise level with the Sharks. As this website has detailed, Am should very much be part of the conversation related to Springbok captaincy backup options.
As Handre Pollard has been ruled out for at least the next six months with a knee ligament injury, Elton Jantjies and Damian Willemse will go head to head to show that they can handle the pressure of Test rugby. Rassie Erasmus has already confirmed that Jantjies would be the current ‘first-choice’ replacement for Pollard, but Willemse – who has been working hard on his tactical kicking and game management – could put his more experienced countryman under a bit of pressure with a fine performance on Saturday.
The Green and Gold teams will also feature a return to the national fold for a few players who have rejuvenated their careers overseas. Arno Botha was once earmarked as a potential successor to Duane Vermeulen, but saw his career stutter due to successive injuries. After finding a new home at Munster, Botha was able to rediscover his best form and this year returned to the Vodacom Bulls.
Similarly, tighthead prop Ruan Dreyer and loose forward Nizaam Carr – who both start for the Gold team – will be looking to show their growth after returning to South Africa from the English Premiership.
As far as young guns go, there will be no shortage of emerging talent on show on Saturday. All will have massively benefited from this week, even if they don’t get bags of game time at Newlands.
When the teams were picked from the draft last week, there was plenty of noise about the midfield, as Wandisile Simelane will be starting for the Springbok Green side, while Rikus Pretorius will run on for the Gold team. Both players are highly-rated former Junior Springboks, who will be playing next to comparative veterans of the game.
Casting an eye to the respective benches, there is an equally large number of players who are experiencing the Springbok environment for the first time. The standout story is, of course, Kade Wolhuter, who has been named as the 25th player for the Bok Green side. This time last year, Wolhuter was busy preparing for his matric exams, while many of his teammates on Saturday were in Japan helping the Springboks win the World Cup.
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