Cape Town - With the Springboks’ Test schedule for the Incoming Series and Rugby Championship confirmed recently, what would the team look like for the first Test against Wales on July 2?
Well, there’s still a long way to go to that Loftus Versfeld clash, but let’s look at a possible match-23 if Jacques Nienaber had to field a side for a Test tomorrow – largely based on current form.
15 Warrick Gelant
Willie le Roux is on borrowed time in the Bok side, and when Warrick Gelant is in such irresistible form for the Stormers, he cannot be ignored. Aphelele Fassi was with the national squad last year, and has played well for the Sharks, but Gelant has been outstanding.
14 Cheslin Kolbe
The World Cup star finally made his debut for new French club Toulon recently, and is ready to rock ’n roll once more. Also, there haven’t been any serious challengers to his No 14 jersey, with Sbu Nkosi not seeing much of the ball for the Sharks.
13 Lukhanyo Am
That’s it, that’s the pick!
12 André Esterhuizen
Damian de Allende has been on the sidelines since January 1 with hip and groin problems, and is in doubt for Munster’s Champions Cup playoffs in April.
André Esterhuizen has been on fire for Harlequins this year, and won three Man of the Match awards in January. He also played alongside Am at the Sharks previously.
11 Makazole Mapimpi
The Bok try-scoring machine hasn’t stopped dotting down for the Sharks either.
10 Manie Libbok
Okay, okay, let me explain … Handre Pollard has not played any rugby this year.
Since his Maldives holidays in December following the November Tests, the Bok No 10 returned to his French club Montpellier, and has not featured in games against Leinster, Exeter, La Rochelle and Pau, and missed yesterday’s clash against Brive – reportedly due to a calf injury.
Elton Jantjies has also been out of action, having sustained a shoulder injury for his Japanese club NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes, which required surgery last month, and he is set to play again in April.
So, coming to Libbok, the Stormers playmaker blew hot and cold at the start of the URC, but has been conducting the orchestra in superb fashion in recent weeks. Libbok is able to kick with both feet, create space and width for his backline, and pull off some special tricks in general play.
None of the other SA flyhalves in the URC have come close to Libbok’s performances.
9 Herschel Jantjies
Faf de Klerk only made his return to the pitch on the first weekend of February after lengthy absence with a hip injury, so Herschel Jantjies gets the nod after consistent displays for the in-form Stormers.
8 Duane Vermeulen
He may not produce those barnstorming line-breaks any longer, but Vermeulen has shown that he is still a rock for new team Ulster – but Jasper Wiese has again been in fine touch for Leicester.
7 Pieter-Steph du Toit
The former World Player of the Year has finally shaken off his longterm shoulder injury, and began his comeback for Japanese club Toyota Verblitz in mid-January. With no real contenders pushing him for the No 7 anyway, Du Toit is a shoo-in.
6 Siya Kolisi (captain)
Deon Fourie has been terrific as a genuine fetcher for the Stormers, but Siya Kolisi is an inspirational leader and ball-carrier, and is getting better with every game for the Sharks in the URC.
5 Franco Mostert
Lood de Jager is the first-choice Bok No 5, but did not feature for English club Sale against Northampton yesterday, so the hard-working Franco Mostert, who plays for Honda Heat in Japan currently, comes in.
4 Ruben van Heerden
With Eben Etzebeth sustaining a calf injury this week, which has ruled him out for four weeks, and Salmaan Moerat still recovering from a knee injury, the Boks are a bit thin on the enforcer front.
But Ruben van Heerden has taken his game to another level this season at the Sharks. He gets stuck in at close quarters, with strong ball-carries and big tackles.
I still prefer a specialist lock than playing a retreaded flank, such as Jean-Luc du Preez, in the second row.
Honourable mentions for Lions No 4 Ruben Schoeman and Stormers hard man Adre Smith.
3 Trevor Nyakane
The former Bulls tighthead is loving life at new French club Racing 92, while Frans Malherbe is still busy with his rehabilitation from a long-term neck injury.
2 Bongi Mbonambi
The ‘big dog’ has been firing up the Sharks pack in the United Rugby Championship, where the Durbanites’ scrum has been dominant.
1 Ox Nche
While Nche’s agility in the loose has always been the strong point of his game, he has developed his scrumming ability considerably, with his destruction of the Bulls and Stormers tightheads particularly memorable.
Bench: 16 Steven Kitshoff 17 Malcolm Marx 18 Vincent Koch 19 Marvin Orie 20 Jasper Wiese 21 Embrose Papier 22 Damian Willemse 23 Aphelele Fassi.
Incoming Series Fixtures
July 2: Wales, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
July 9: Wales, Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
July 16: Wales, Cape Town Stadium
Rugby Championship Fixtures
August 6: New Zealand, Mbombela Stadium
August 13: New Zealand, Ellis Park, Johannesburg
August 27: Australia, away (venue to be confirmed)
September 3: Australia, away (venue TBC)
September 17: Argentina, Velez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires
September 24: Argentina, Kings Park, Durban