Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber says captain Siya Kolisi’s experience and leadership would be vital against the British & Irish Lions even if he is rusty after a period of self-isolation.
Kolisi, along with teammates Handre Pollard, Bongi Mbonambi and Makazole Mapimpi, have slotted straight back into the Springboks’ starting lineup for the first Test against the Lions in Cape Town on Saturday.
This is despite that they had to spend last week in self-isolation in Johannesburg following a Covid-19 outbreak in the Springbok camp. The players subsequently missed out on representing South Africa A against the Lions and Bulls.
Kolisi, Mapimpi and Ox Nche were the last group of players to report for duty at the Springbok camp in Cape Town on Monday morning after completing their mandatory self-isolation and being cleared to return to the field on Monday afternoon following medical screening.
“It was very important [that Siya is included],” Nienaber said after announcing a team to face the Lions in the first of the three-Test series.
“He has been a player we have worked with for quite some time, he knows our structures and what we’re trying to do from an on-field perspective.
“Obviously, he has been our captain, so it’s always nice to have him and he’ll bring some calmness to the squad and we’re very happy to have him back.
“Siya has been our captain and has been announced captain of this British & Irish Lions squad. It’s about consistency in keeping him there, and Handre was our vice-captain in 2019.”
Mbonambi, who was also in quarantine in Johannesburg, assured that both he and Kolisi have been working hard to compensate for any lack of match fitness.
“I was with Siya in isolation and it was quite tough. We couldn’t get much physical stuff done,” the Springbok hooker explained. “But we were all in Zoom meetings and reviewing clips sent by the coaches. Most of the preparation was mental and analysing our opponents.
“Coming here on Monday, Siya and the rest of us knew we have to step up physically and mentally. We’ve had to match the intensity of our teammates who have been active for a little longer. We’ve been doing as much as we can in that regard.
“We’re feeling good and I can tell you Siya is also.”
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