Siya Kolisi and other top Springboks could still miss the first Lions Test
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CAPE TOWN - The possibility still remains that captain Siya Kolisi and a few other first-choice Springboks could miss out on the first Test against the British and Irish Lions next Saturday.
Kolisi, Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe, Handre Pollard and Makazole Mapimpi were among those who were named as having contracted Covid-19 on July 5 and 6, and it is now 11 days on.
Other players affected include Dan du Preez, Ox Nche, Scarra Ntubeni, Marvin Orie and Frans Steyn, all of whom did not feature in the South Africa A victory over the Lions on Wednesday, nor Saturday’s clash against the Bulls at Cape Town Stadium.
Head coach Jacques Nienaber himself was also in Covid-19 isolation, but rejoined the squad in Cape Town on Thursday, and he took charge on Friday once more after director of rugby Rassie Erasmus coached the players in his absence.
Nienaber explained that it was not a simple case of players being available for selection once they had completed the 10-day isolation period.
“When a player tests positive, you go into isolation for 10 days, and then there is a return-to-play protocol that they have to follow before they can get selection. Basically, it will take him 16 or 17 days to get back into the mix as there is a protocol that we have to follow,” the defence guru said.
“I’m not 100 percent sure (if all affected players will be ready for the first Test). There are lots of criteria, and for me, when the onset of symptoms (started), this and that… We’ve got true medical professionals who run that for us, and they are in constant contact with the medical advisory group (MAG) that guides us through that process.
“Every morning we get feedback from them, stating this guy is still on track, and they will literally tell us that a player can start joining team training now.
“We work with the players that we have available, and not break our heads with the guys and the process as they return. That’s up to the doctors – they must get them ready, and the moment that a guy is ready to join our group, we will take him and work with him.
“There are a lot of things that we will draw our conclusion on, and use for team selection.”
On Kolisi specifically, Nienaber said: “Siya and the other boys are doing well. I must complement the medics in terms of how they are handling them. There is a nice programme running there, in terms of them not getting too much cabin fever in their rooms.
”There is a return-to-play protocol that has to be followed – certain markers on day one, day two, day three. He is in the process of returning to the rugby field. It’s 10 days of isolation, and then your return-to-play starts. Thankfully, they are not in hospital, and are doing well from a health point of view.”
But there is still a real chance that Kolisi and Co will run out at Cape Town Stadium next Saturday, even if they haven’t been able to train for about two weeks. Nienaber said that there were a number of factors taken into consideration when deciding on clearing a player for a Test match.
“It won’t be the norm – it will be outliers, if I can put it like that. The players know, as we are quite open and honest and transparent on our selection process,” he said.
“Physical readiness is one of the top things, and that means you’ve got to be medically fit, you’ve got to be conditioning-wise fit. We must have had the opportunity to have coached you, so that’s probably the three big things we will have a look at.
“Sometimes a player can tick the boxes – that he is medically fit, physically we are happy with his conditioning. And sometimes it might be a player that has been in our squad and systems since 2018. So, sometimes that box gets ticked because he has been involved with us for 26 Test matches.”
Only one Test starting XV certainty, inside centre Damian de Allende, will be in action for SA A against the Bulls on Saturday (1pm kickoff).