’Different’ Kwagga Smith will also give Springboks momentum in his own way
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CAPE TOWN - It’s here. After all the logistical uncertainty, the disruptions to training schedules, the cancelled second Test against Georgia, and isolation periods, the Springboks’ three-Test Series against the British & Irish Lions is finally here.
During the team announcement press conference on Tuesday, head coach Jacques Nienaber named a side including some key players who have been absent during their recent preparation, like skipper Siya Kolisi, Handre Pollard and Makazole Mapimpi. And given these tough times and the absolute magnitude of this Series, that’s a major relief.
So, looking ahead to the Series-opener at Cape Town on Saturday, here are three focal points to Nienaber’s team.
The six-two split
Given the Springboks’ traditional success and reliance on their forwards and the important role the Bomb Squad played during the World Cup, it was rather surprising seeing the Bok coaching staff opt for only five forwards on the bench.
During the team announcement, Nienaber shed some light, explaining that ‘it’s not the right time’ to go six-two and that given the hurdles they faced in the build-up to the Series – with some key backline players having had to isolate – they didn’t want to put too much pressure on them, hence opting for three backs on the replacements bench.
He did, however, say that they will revert to a six-two split should they feel confident enough to do so.
Seeing Steven Kitshoff’s name on the teamsheet at No 1 has become so custom that you wouldn’t be blamed for putting his omission down to a typing error. This week, however, no such errors were made, with the coaching staff instead opting for Ox Nche to pack down alongside Bongi Mbonambi and Trevor Nyakane.
It’s been more than three years between Nche’s first and second Test caps, which probably explains why many thought of the industrious front-rower as an ‘uncapped’ player when the Boks fronted Georgia early in July.
It’s a well-deserved opportunity, though, and if ever there was a chance for him to make sure that he’s next in line behind Kitshoff, it’s now.
We all know what Duane Vermeulen can do on a rugby field, but as SA director of rugby Erasmus said last week, he’s ‘touch and go’ to play some part in Series.
In his place, Kwagga Smith gets to have a go at No 8, and while I don’t think there are too many that would refer to them as like-for-like, Nienaber said that both players give them what they want – momentum. They just do it in a different way.
Nonetheless, seeing the exciting Smith get the opportunity to show what he can do in a starting berth in such a big game certainly is something to look forward to.
15 Willie le Roux 14 Cheslin Kolbe 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende 11 Makazole Mapimpi 10 Handre Pollard (vice-captain) 9 Faf de Klerk 8 Kwagga Smith 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit 6 Siya Kolisi (captain) 5 Franco Mostert 4 Eben Etzebeth 3 Trevor Nyakane 2 Bongi Mbonambi 1 Ox Nche.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx 17 Steven Kitshoff 18 Frans Malherbe 19 Lood de Jager 20 Rynhardt Elstadt 21 Herschel Jantjies 22 Elton Jantjies 23 Damian Willemse.
The match kicks off at 6pm on Saturday.