Rassie Erasmus’ plan to have his captain in top form come the World Cup quarter-finals means Siya Kolisi will start against the Canadians tomorrow, with Damian de Allende the only other survivor from the line-up that started against Italy.
The Springboks conclude their Pool B commitments tomorrow and then have 10 days to prepare for the last eight, providing of course they subdue the Canucks. Captain Kolisi has been on a carefully monitored comeback schedule since he picked up an injury late in Super Rugby and his coach says all is going according to plan.
“Siya played his best game last week against Italy since his return from injury,” Erasmus said. “He played a full 80 minutes and is now back to where he was (before his injury). He doesn’t have as many minutes under the belt as the other loose forwards in the squad and the more game time he gets now the better for him, so he is going to start against Canada.”
Erasmus said that back in July the first stage of the plan was to get the 28-year-old over his injury and conditioned to resume playing.
“Our first challenge was to get him fit enough to get to the World Cup, and then see how the knee would hold up. Then it was to get him fit for the first game and then to play 80 minutes. He has done that now,” Erasmus said. “Maybe he wasn’t at his best in the friendly against Japan when we arrived here, but he’s getting back to his best. I thought he was excellent against Italy. If he can put in another good performance (against Canada) before the quarter-finals it will do him the world of good.”
The Bok team to play Canada is basically the bench from the Italy game on Saturday plus the rest of the side that played Namibia, with the first-choice players from the Italy game on the bench.
It means a chance for Kwagga Smith to state his case for inclusion on the bench for the knockout stages, with his rival for that spot, Francois Louw, completing the loose trio.
Schalk Brits returns at hooker, with Malcolm Marx the cover on the bench.
“It is clear the first and second-choice men are Malcolm and Bongi (Mbonambi), but not necessarily in that order,” said Erasmus of his depth at No 2. “Malcolm may be better in the looser games, while Bongi likes the hard, scrum-battle type of game. We’re comfortable with our hookers... and Schalk has always known his role.”
Interestingly, the replacement in the Bok squad for the injured Jesse Kriel, Damian Willemse, goes straight into the team at fullback, with Warwick Gelant shifting to the wing. In the midfield, De Allende moves from No 12 to 13 and Francois Steyn starts at 12. Sbu Nkosi moves to left wing as Makazole Mapimpi is given a well-earned rest.
“Makazole has played 80 minutes in every game so far, so we need to manage his workload,” said Erasmus. “He’s played really well and cemented his place in the team.
“And Damian is match fit now and comfortable at No 15 so he’ll play there with Warrick on the wing, a position he’s played in before.
“We also need to try Damian at 13 because he’s now the cover for Lukhanyo Am, now that Jesse is out of the squad. He’s played in spells at 13 for us, but we can now give him a full go there.”
Tomorrow’s match in Kobe kicks off at 12.15pm (SA time).
Springboks: Damian Willemse, Warrick Gelant, Damian de Allende, Frans Steyn, Sbu Nkosi, Elton Jantjies, Cobus Reinach, Francois Louw, Kwagga Smith, Siya Kolisi (capt), Franco Mostert, RG Snyman, Vincent Koch, Schalk Brits, Thomas du Toit. Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Herschel Jantjies, Handre Pollard, Willie le Roux