CAPE TOWN - The brutal physicality of the British & Irish Lions series means the Springbok squad to play Argentina this Saturday will have some fresh legs and perhaps also some heroes returning from injury.
The Boks moved from Cape Town to Gqeberha on Sunday to begin preparations for their opening match of the Rugby Championship and assistant coach Deon Davids told the media that prop Ox Nche has recovered from the neck injury he sustained thanks to some illegal scrumming from the Lions and will be considered for selection.
Pieter-Steph du Toit, Duane Vermeulen and Faf de Klerk are undergoing medical assessments and could well be considered for selection. Nche suffered his injury during the first Test against the Lions and that opened the door for Trevor Nyakane, who had an exceptional series and late in the third Test won a vital scrum penalty against Kyle Sinckler.
“Trevor Nyakane is a champion,” Davids enthused. “Whatever task is given him, he always does it with the right attitude, and he always gives 100% as his performances at both tighthead and loosehead have shown.
“Having a player with his versatility broadens your depth and gives the coaches much more options. We are very happy with what he achieved and how he assists other players around him.” Davids said he was particularly pleased with the forwards in general and how they handled “the big moments” in the series.
“I'm proud of them. It was a very tough series, very competitive up front and we grew as a group from the first Test against Georgia to the Lions series,” he said.
“There was a consistent process of us trying to improve and having so much experience in the side helped a lot. The willingness of the players to share their experience with the new guys coming in was definitely encouraging.
“Also, the guys that assisted the forward pack, who did not play every week but helped prepare our starters for each Test match, played a huge role to paint pictures of what we could expect and assisting us to find solutions. It made sure that the starting pack could perform in scrums and lineouts. Those factors were very important to achieve what we've achieved.”
The former Southern Kings coach said the Boks had celebrated their win on Saturday, but on arrival in the Friendly City they had switched on to the challenge posed by the Pumas.
“From a coaching perspective, we really enjoyed winning the series,” Davids said.
“Because of the professionalism in the squad and the preparation that we've done before, the focus has quickly shifted onto our next task. Obviously, it's important to bring that reality to the players as soon as possible, which we have done.
“We started full-out yesterday with a focus on what we can expect from Argentina. For us, it's a normal Test week, focusing on the job at hand. We will prepare accordingly.”
Head coach Jacques Nienaber has confirmed that the starting line-up will be refreshed but Davids is confident that there will be no drop in standards.
“The players understand the importance of going into this competition in the right frame of mind. We are the defending champions. Obviously, we would like to defend the title successfully. I am really satisfied with how the players have already taken responsibility for what lies ahead,” Davids said.
“The players that are going to get opportunities will make sure that they do everything in their power to be ready for the Pumas. Having an environment of open-mindedness in our approach off the field helps a lot in our training and preparation for the rest of the week. From that perspective, I can only commend the professionalism of the players. They understand the task, they are proud to represent the country and they want to assist each other to get better. The players will be ready for the challenges of the Rugby Championship.”