2019 World Cup champions, or some fresh blood? Can the Springboks find the right mix for Lions Tour
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CAPE TOWN - Here at Independent Sport we have begun a Springbok ‘Form Team’ selection every week ahead of the British & Irish Lions tour.
And while players who are in red-hot form each week in the Rainbow Cup SA competition may not necessarily make it into the Bok side in July and August, should the most consistent of those players be part of the mix?
The real question is, should new Bok coach Jacques Nienaber stick with the 2019 Rugby World Cup champions, or introduce some fresh blood to take on the Lions?
The easy answer would be to pick the team that beat England 32-12 in the final in Yokohama on that unforgettable November night, but the current situation is not as straight-forward.
Nienaber should be careful of just employing the World Cup side en masse against the Lions. Warren Gatland’s 37-man squad may not be everybody’s cup of tea, with a number of surprise omissions such as Johnny Sexton, Kyle Sinckler, Jonny May and Billy Vunipola, while CJ Stander would’ve been worth a shot as well against his former countrymen.
There is no doubt, though, that the Lions will be well-drilled and have played more than enough top-level rugby to be ready to knock over the Boks in the first Test at Cape Town Stadium on July 24.
The same just cannot be said about the South Africans at the moment. At lock, Eben Etzebeth missed six weeks of action with a finger injury, and only returned to the pitch last week for Toulon.
Lood de Jager is still on the sidelines, and is unlikely to be fit before the end of the English Premiership season. Although his Sale Sharks coach Alex Sanderson thinks the big man will be ready for the Lions series, De Jager would not have played any rugby.
RG Snyman is in a similar boat, and while Franco Mostert can step in at No 5, he is not as effective as De Jager and Snyman.
Captain Siya Kolisi is getting game time for the Sharks, but is quite some distance off his best form, although Nienaber will be happy that Pieter-Steph Du Toit and Duane Vermeulen are making good strides forward following their injury lay-offs.
Faf de Klerk is as busy as ever for Sale, flyhalf Handre Pollard eventually made it back for Montpellier after a number of months injured, while Damian de Allende, Lukhanyo Am and Cheslin Kolbe have been outstanding for Munster, the Sharks and Toulouse respectively.
Judging from media reports, Willie le Roux is also playing well in Japan.
But some of the local talents are pushing for Bok berths. Morné Steyn has rolled back the years, Sharks No 9 Jaden Hendrikse has been outstanding, while Aphelele Fassi and Cornal Hendricks have underlined their class.
Elrigh Louw has proved that he could easily wear the No 7 jersey at Test level, while Ruan Nortjé and Walt Steenkamp at lock, as well as Lions tighthead Carlu Sadie, should be in the national set-up too.