DURBAN – Curiously, the Springboks have three loose forwards on the bench for Sunday’s Rugby Championship match against the Wallabies and this is both an acknowledgement of how Australia play and also a reflection of the versatility of the Bok squad.
Coach Jacques Nienaber has had to be a touch inventive in his selections because of the injuries to Pieter-Steph du Toit and RG Snyman, two key players from the 2019 World Cup, the first a blindside flank who could move to lock and the latter a vital part of the famed “bomb squad” as a lock replacement.
Nienaber has dealt with that twin loss by picking Franco Mostert on the flank – a like-for-like replacement for Du Toit in terms of size and work rate, while Mostert can also move to lock at some point of the game which allows Nienaber to pick extra mobility on the bench to counter the pace and width with which the Australians play.
Thus the Boks have on the bench Marco van Staden, Kwagga Smith and Jasper Wiese, and it is years since there has been a back-up loose trio on a Bok bench.
Nienaber explained the reasoning behind his choice of three impact loosies.
“If you look at how the Aussies have played in all their recent Test matches they play with pace and tempo and continuity and they also have an awesome skill-set in terms of stretching you from touchline to touchline,” Nienaber said.
“I know it looks weird having three loose forwards among the reserves, but it makes sense when you consider who we have starting.
“One of our locks (Mostert) is starting at flank, so we effectively have three locks in the group. And 100% right it is going to be a high-tempo game and the selection of the bench was based on that.”
Wiese has had to make way for the return of veteran Duane Vermeulen and the manner in which he grew as a No 8 during the matches against the British & Irish Lions and Argentina means the Boks will have some quality insurance for Vermeulen, who might not play too long given that his last Test match was the World Cup final.
“Duane has been part of the squad in training for a while now, since the build-up to the final Test against the Lions,” Nienaber said.
“We have been managing his training load. He has effectively been completing his return-to-play programme and he is on track in terms of when we planned for him to return to play. It will take some time for him to get used to the pace of the game again, but in saying that Duane has been part of the squad for over 50 Tests.
“He knows how to take shortcuts to the things he needs to do on the field. He is exactly where we want him to be, and I can’t wait to see him on the field.”
There are just two backs on the bench in Herchel Janjities and Damian Willemse while the big change on the right wing is Sbu Nkosi in for the mercurial Cheslin Kolbe, who is the only Bok player in Australia unavailable because of injury.
“Sbu has scored eight tries in 12 Tests, which tells us that he knows where the tryline is,” Nienaber said in softening the loss of Kolbe.
“Cheslin and Sbu each have their own circus trick, the thing that expresses their individuality and strength. So while you end up missing what the one player has, you gain from the strength of the guy who comes in. Sbu has scored some quite spectacular tries and was part of our 2019 World Cup campaign.”