Durban - On Tuesday, Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber will unveil his first Springbok team of the year, for the first Test against Wales in Pretoria on Saturday. He is currently working with a 43-man squad that contains a number of new faces, but with most of his usual suspects fit and healthy, Mike Greenaway does not expect too many changes from the starting 15 that finished last November’s tour with a narrow 27-27 loss to England.
Front Row: Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Trevor Nyakane started in that last Bok match and the possible change to that is Frans Malherbe (back from injury last year) starting at tighthead with Nyakane on the bench. And backing up Nche and Mbomanbi in the Bomb Squad will once more be Malcolm Marx and Steven Kitshoff.
Second Row: Undoubtedly the Boks’ first-choice second row is the old form of Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager and the good news is that both are fit and raring to go, with Franco Mostert in reserve.
Loose forwards: Nienaber has assembled a battery of first-rate ammo and how to fire it all over the course of this series is a nice headache for him. The great news is that 2019 World Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit, is at last fit and surely will start in his first Test since that serious injury incurred in the first Test against the Lions last year. With Siya Kolisi captaining the side on the other flank, the burning question is who will be at No 8? The queue of contenders to replace injured Duane Vermeulen goes out the door and around the block but a betting man will look at Nienaber’s history of conservative selecting and thus go with last year’s stand-in for Vermeulen, Jasper Wiese, who has been on fire for Leicester. That would mean a wait for uncapped Evan Roos and Elrigh Louw, with Kwagga Smith and Deon Fourie tipped for Bomb squad duty.
Half-backs: Handre Pollard only arrived on Monday from France but expect him to slot straight in at flyhalf alongside Faf de Klerk at 9. The two Jantjies, Elton and Herschel, will back them up.
Centres: The English Premiership’s Player of the Year, Andre Esterhuizen, has been recalled to the Bok squad but don’t expect him to replace incumbent 12 Damian de Allende just yet. Vice-Captain Lukhanyo Am will complete the established midfield.
Back Three: Cheslin Kolbe was missing because of injury for much of the Boks’ season last year but at last he is back and will resume at No 14 where Jesse Kriel was an unlikely replacement on the end-of-year tour. Makazole Mapimpi is an automatic inclusion on the left wing and while there is a public clamour for change at fullback, expect Willie le Roux to continue while Warwick Gelant waits in the wings.
Springboks (Probable): 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 Jasper Wiese 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit 6 Siya Kolisi 5 Lood de Jager 4 Eben Etzebeth 3 Frans Malherbe 2 Bongi Mbonambi 1 Ox Nche.