In the buildup to the first Test between the Springboks and British & Irish Lions in Cape Town, the SARugbymag.co.za writers select their Springbok match-day 23 that could run out on Saturday.
It’s unlikely there would have been much debate about these selections if not for the Covid-19 outbreak in the Bok squad, impacting the availability of several players in different ways.
As a result, there has been uncertainty over the likes of captain Siya Kolisi, wing Makazole Mapimpi and hooker Bongi Mbonambi among others, but the Boks should still have the majority of their World Cup-winning squad available.
The backline virtually picks itself, but due to the lack of game time and on-field preparation for someone like Mapimpi, I have opted for Sbu Nkosi on the left wing – where he acquitted himself well in the SA A game against the Lions.
There can be no escaping the fact that Duane Vermeulen’s absence is a massive blow for Boks, and so I’ve opted for the most like-for-like replacement in Jasper Wiese, with Kwagga Smith offering impact off the bench.
Kolisi will start as captain if available, but I have bracketed him with Marco van Staden should he not be deemed ready to play. In my team, Pieter-Steph du Toit would cover No 5 lock, while versatile Jean-Luc du Preez could cover No 4 lock and offer options in the back row.
Until it can be certain that Frans Steyn is 100% physically fit, the Bomb Squad concept of a six-two split will be compromised, and therefore I’ve gone with three backs on the bench.
Craig Lewis’ Springbok team – 15 Willie Le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Sbu Nkosi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c)/Marco van Staden, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Jean-Luc du Preez, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Morne Steyn, 23 Damian Willemse.
A big bench drove South Africa to the world title in 2019 and Rassie sticks to the same plan for the first Test. Injuries to hammers Duane Vermeulen and RG Snyman have somewhat diluted the available quality but a heavy-handed pack shouldn’t have much difficulty flexing against a polite Lions forward unit.
Skipper Siya Kolisi’s athleticism is deployed at No 8 with Rynhardt Elstadt at openside to take care of the attacking breakdown, and break down attacking halfbacks and wing forwards. If Kolisi starts to puff, one of Wiese or Smith fills in (Smith also serves as the emergency back on a six-two bench).
Secondary objectives include getting Mbonambi and De Jager back on the field, and Koch gets a chance to prove we have a reliable tighthead option behind Malherbe.
This selection places a big premium on Pollard playing for 80 which is why Morne temporarily takes over from Frans Steyn at the end of the bench.
Zelím Nel’s Springbok team – 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 Siya Kolisi (c), 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Jasper Wiese, 21 Kwagga Smith, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Morne Steyn.
With a 46-man strong squad, there are options aplenty. But continuity is key and selecting a match 23 closest to resembling the side that featured in the World Cup final is South Africa’s best bet at toppling the British & Irish Lions in the opening Test.
With Duane Vermeulen and RG Snyman unavailable through injury, the loose trio and second row will have to be tweaked. Starting Kwagga Smith at the back of the scrum is not a like-for-like replacement, but playing style will be well complemented by captain Siya Kolisi and the brute force that is Pieter-Steph du Toit.
Up front, both Steven Kitshoff and Bongi Mbonambi have been spoken about at potential leaders should Kolisi be absent and given their scrumming form in the few warm-up matches South Africa A played, they are the incumbents in their respective positions. Frans Malherbe should still be the first-choice tighthead and cracks the nod to start in Test one. Eben Etzebeth virtually picks himself at No 4 and Lood de Jager partners him in the second row.
With the six-two bench split, or the Bomb Squad as it’s now known, the impact forwards – and this is solely based on form and game time in the weeks leading up to and including the assembling of the squad – are Malcolm Marx, Ox Nche and Trevor Nyakane.
I’ve also gone with Franco Mostert, Rynhardt Elstadt and Jasper Wiese as substitutes. Playing Mostert off the bench gives the Boks an edge over any opponent at lineout time and Elstadt could also play a dual role, depending on the match situation, as he covers lock and flank. One could argue that Jean-Luc du Preez can play a similar role, but Elstadt just about edges ahead of him based on form shown at club level. Wiese’s physical prowess also helps him make the cut on to the bench.
Every single player in the Boks’ backline which started the 2019 final has a proven track record that they are the best in their respective positions and that was once agains highlighted by their form in the warm-up matches. With the forward-heavy bench, Herschel Jantjies and Morne Steyn are the two preferred impact backs. Damian Willemse has been good recently, but in a high-pressured situation, Steyn has seen and done it all and remains for now the more clutch player.
Mariette Adams’ Springbok team – 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 Kwagga Smith, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Rynhardt Elstadt, 21 Jasper Wiese, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Morne Steyn.
I have gone for a best-case scenario, where everyone, bar the currently injured Duane Vermeulen and RG Snyman, is fit and ready to play in what will be an intense first Test in Cape Town.
That means that the backline selection is straightforward, keeping the same combinations that played in the 2019 World Cup final against England. The centre combination of Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am appear to be in superb form, which will be a massive boost for the Boks.
The pack is slightly more interesting, given that Vermeulen won’t be available until, at best, the third Test match. Nienaber and Erasmus have tried both Kwagga Smith and Jasper Wiese in the role and I think it will be the former who is preferred against the Lions. Smith’s ability to get around the park and what he brings on defence nudge him slightly ahead of Wiese.
With nearly everyone available, I reckon the Springboks will stick with the six-two split between forwards and backs. That could change if Lood de Jager isn’t ready to play yet, as I don’t believe either Marvin Orie or Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg would provide the same impact off the bench. Although Trevor Nyakane has not been in the best of form lately, his experience gets him picked ahead of the in-form Wilco Louw.
Rynhardt Elstadt provides an option at both lock and blindside flank, while Jasper Wiese can cover openside flank and No 8.
As for the backline replacements, Herschel Jantjies will keep his place as the backup scrumhalf, despite coming under pressure from Cobus Reinach, while Frans Steyn will provide cover as the utility back. Steyn’s experience and big-match temperament get him in ahead of Damian Willemse.
Dylan Jack’s Springbok team – 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 Kwagga Smith, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Rynhardt Elstadt, 21 Jasper Wiese, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Frans Steyn.
Ever the optimist, Dylan has opted to assume that all players (barring Duane Vermeulen and RG Snyman) will be fit and ready for Saturday’s match. Sadly, I am not so certain.
The Boks have long held the mantra that if you don’t train on Monday, you don’t play on Saturday. Extraordinary times may call for a compromise on this stance but, nevertheless, it may be too late into the training week before key players such as Bongi Mbonambi, Makazole Mapimpi, Siya Kolisi and Ox Nche are cleared to play. The Boks are, however, thankfully boosted by the return of Handre Pollard who is, in his own words, “100% ready”.
This makes the backline a relatively simple calculation. Sbu Nkosi had a fine outing for the SA A side and will come in on the left wing for Mapimpi in the only change to the lineup that played in the World Cup final.
In the pack, the unexpected absence of Vermeulen, Snyman, Mbonambi, Nche and Kolisi will necessitate a rethink. In the back row Marco van Staden has done enough to earn the rights to the openside jersey, with Kwagga Smith likely to get the nod at No 8 ahead of Jasper Wiese (who’s ability to cover multiple loose-forward positions makes him a handy asset off the bench).
Footage of the SA A game against the Bulls showed Lood de Jager in among the players in the stands. Having tested positive for Covid-19 on 5 July he may have already completed his return-to-play protocols, and a player of his calibre must be backed to start.
De Jager is not only the lineout genius in the Springbok pack, but is also one of their key carriers. They’ll need his ballast in the absence of Vermeulen. His match fitness will be a concern, but it is better to give him the opportunity to go all out knowing that, as soon as he tires, Franco Mostert is ready to replace him.
The front row of Malherbe, Marx and Kitshoff is the strongest one likely to be available to selectors.
On my bench, Thomas du Toit pips Coenie Oosthuizen at loosehead and Wilco Louw is favoured ahead of the out-of-form Nyakane and Koch. I have a feeling that in the absence of RG Snyman the Boks will move away from a six-two bench split. None of the squad’s other locks have been able to replicate his dynamism or power. That leaves the versatile Mostert and Wiese as the remaining forward replacements.
Herschel and Elton Jantjies bring continuity and stability to the backline replacements and I feel that Damian Willemse has done enough to merit inclusion ahead of Jesse Kriel or Frans Steyn in the final spot on the bench.
Andre-Pierre Cronje’s Springbok team – 15 Willie Le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Sbu Nkosi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Kwagga Smith, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Jasper Wiese, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Damian Willemse.