The Springboks are a mix of old, new and odd for the first Test since World Cup win
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DURBAN - There is something old, something borrowed and something new about the first Springbok team selected since the 2019 World Cup final 20 months ago, and that is what you would expect in these most challenging of times for rugby.
If Bok bosses Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber lived in an ideal world, they would be picking the team that smashed England en masse — sans the three veterans who have retired — but they were never going to have that luxury given that Covid-19 has reared its loathsome head; a bunch of overseas-based players have arrived too late for selection; there are the inevitable injuries, and bizarrely there is even a pair of bonfire burn victims.
With respect to the prodigious talents of Aphelele Fassi, Rosko Specman and Jasper Wiese, it is why there will be three debutants against Georgia at Loftus on Friday; an eyebrow-raising midfield combination of Frans Steyn and Jesse Kriel, and the unusual sight of Kwagga Smith at No 8. These selections become clearer when you consider the following non-availabilities: talisman No 8 Duane Vermeulen (injury); World Cup wings Cheslin Kolbe (late arrival from France), Sbu Nkosi (Covid-19) and Makazole Mapimpi (Covid-19 isolation); Lukhanyo Am (Covid-19 isolation); Sale Sharks loose forwards Dan and Jean-Luc du Preez and scrumhalf Faf de Klerk (late arrivals), Lood de Jager (injury); plus RG Snyman and Damian de Allende (burns). Regarding Am and Mapimpi, while they have not tested positive for Covid-19, they were in close contact with their Sharks teammate Sbu Nkosi, who has tested positive.
It is nevertheless a powerful combination and some of the newcomers are long overdue some selection favour. In my opinion, one of the unluckiest scrumhalves in SA rugby history is Cobus Reinach. He missed out on the 2015 World Cup for reasons that had nothing to do with ability and he has continued to be on the periphery despite consistently red hot form for Northampton and, lately, Montpellier. I am not taking anything away from the irrepressible Faf de Klerk, but the 31-year-old Reinach should have way more than 14 caps, and he will want to make a big statement now that the selection cards have for once fallen favourably for him.
The 25-year-old Wiese will cover loose forward from the bench and his selection is a well-deserved one. I have watched him break records for ball carries and metres made for Leicester Tigers in the English Premiership and, as Nienaber says, the former Cheetahs players has “broken the (selection) door down.”
Specman, who is 32-years-old, is another who consistently caught Nienaber’s eye. “Rosko is a live wire, he brings lots of energy and is someone who is always smiling and joking. And when it comes to the rugby, he is a real professional,” Nienaber said.
Springboks starting XV: Willie le Roux, Rosko Specman, Jesse Kriel, Frans Steyn, Aphelele Fassi, Handre Pollard, Cobus Reinach, Kwagga Smith, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (capt), Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth, Trevor Nyakane, Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nche
Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Marvin Orie, Jasper Wiese, Herschel Jantjies, Elton Jantjies, Damian Willemse