FILE - Lood de Jager (left) is in a race against time to be for the British and Irish Lions tour. Mark R Cristino/EPA
FILE - Lood de Jager (left) is in a race against time to be for the British and Irish Lions tour. Mark R Cristino/EPA

Is the Springboks ‘gamble’ with injured stars the right move for the British and Irish Lions tour?

By Ashfak Mohamed Time of article published Jun 7, 2021

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CAPE TOWN - The first Springbok Test since the 2019 Rugby World Cup final is about three weeks away, and there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the team for the first match against Georgia.

Not because the world champions haven't played since November 2, 2019 (which is a concern but unavoidable due to Covid-19) but the fact that it looks like the match-23 from the 32-12 victory over England will line up for the opening clash against Georgia on July 2.

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Normally that wouldn't be an issue, considering that they are World Cup winners, but this year is different.

There are so many of those stars under injury clouds at the moment that it could be considered a gamble to just pick them for the Georgia and British and Irish Lions Tests no matter what.

Handre Pollard had been out for eight months, and despite returning for Montpellier recently, he doesn't have a lot of rugby under his belt.

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He came off the bench in one game and started another, and made a second start for his French club on Saturday.

Is that enough after such a long layoff to be at your absolute best?

Some fans may not like seeing Morné Steyn's name in the 46-man Bok squad, but he has been excellent for the Bulls over the last nine months or so.

The other flyhalf, Elton Jantjies, has been getting some game time as an injury replacement for French club Pau in recent weeks, and has performed well by all accounts.

The loose-forward situation also has a lot of variables. Duane Vermeulen should find out today if his ankle injury is serious after a scan in Cape Town, and Sikhumbuzo Notshe has already been ruled out with a knee injury.

If Vermeulen can't play, will coach Jacques Nienaber opt for a rookie in Jasper Wiese, a four-cap Bok in Dan du Preez or rope in Marcell Coetzee once he has played two more games for the Bulls?

Even captain Siya Kolisi is not at full throttle yet, despite making some good progress for the Sharks in recent weeks. Locks Lood de Jager and RG Snyman are in a race against time to be fit after long-term injuries, and I don't agree with Rassie Erasmus' sentiments that they can just come in “because they've won World Cups”.

They wouldn't have played for months if they were to be cleared to face the Lions, so would that be the best decision for the team?

ALSO READ: Marcell Coetzee, Cornal Hendricks still in ‘hot mix’ for Springbok squad - Rassie Erasmus

What makes things more complicated is that the 46-man squad won't all gather in Bloemfontein straight away. According to Erasmus, only six players will be in camp this week, and that number is set to increase to 25 the following week, and then 30 a week later. That means all 46 players will only be together in the week of the first Test against Georgia, due to club competitions in France only finishing in the final week of June.

Both Nienaber and Erasmus insisted that the best possible team will face Georgia to ensure there is “rhythm and confidence” and to achieve cohesion.

But maybe they need to take a closer look at the fringe players who are fit and in form, and who were initially set to play in the SA A game against the Lions on July 14 in Cape Town, for the two Georgia Tests to see if they are ready to take on the Lions – just in case some of the World Cup winners are not 100%.

@ashfakmohamed

IOL Sport

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