This was not the Springboks match 23 I expected for the first Test and it doesn’t have the potency of the 23 that won South Africa the World Cup final against England, writes Mark Keohane. Saturday against the British & Irish Lions will be tougher than I thought with this squad.
The world champion Springboks will be at their most vulnerable in this first of three Tests. I still have them to win on Saturday, but I am not quite as bullish, and this is why.
No early excuses, just observations:
Trevor Nyakane has struggled at tighthead and I have not been convinced with the starting Test credentials of loosehead prop Ox Nche and No 8 Kwagga Smith, with the latter no Duane Vermeulen.
I liked what I had seen from Jasper Wiese at No 8 and the physical presence of a Jean-Luc du Preez, who can cover blindside flank, lock and No 8. I am very surprised that neither is in the Test 23, especially Wiese, who made his Test debut (off the bench) against Georgia and started for the SA ‘A’ team against the British & Irish Lions last Wednesday.
Both Wiese and Du Preez played for the SA ‘A’ side in last Saturday’s 17-14 defeat against the Bulls.
Smith, in starting against Georgia, was decent without being devastating.
The absence of lock RG Snyman and the lack of game time for lock Lood de Jager has also meant that the 6 forwards and two backs substitute’s split, that proved so effective at the World Cup, is not an option for the series opener. The famed Bomb Squad will not be a factor on Saturday.
The Bok captain Siya Kolisi and hooker Bongi Mbonambi have been in isolation for the past 10 days and will be very underdone for a Test match of this quality, given the positions they play. Handre Pollard, at flyhalf, could get to 60 minutes and winger Makazole Mapimpi could still make it through 80 minutes, despite their inactivity because of Covid enforced self-isolation. The physical demands of the these two differ significantly to what is expected from Kolisi and Mbonambi.
I understand the selection thinking in wanting loose-head prop Steven Kitshoff to provide impact off the bench, but the big question mark I have is whether Nche can provide the necessary platform in the first 40 minutes.
There are so many ifs when I look at this match 23, with some of the ifs are because of Covid related lack of preparation and some of the ifs are because of the player’s inability to have converted so many opportunities into Test-match performance over the years.
Here I think of Elton Jantjies as the flyhalf understudy to Pollard. I would have felt more comfort with the veteran Morne Steyn providing this cover. Equally, the experience of Test veteran Frans Steyn on the bench.
I have always believed the two Steyns would play pivotal roles in the fortunes of a successful Springbok Test series, but clearly the Bok coach Jacques Nienaber and Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus think otherwise.
The duo are closest to the players and would have a reason for omitting the veterans, but their absence has taken my level of confidence down a notch or three.
I was emphatic the Test opener would go the way of the Springboks, but I have got off the roof shouting it today.
Damian Willemse has been busy and bright in the two inside centre replacement cameos against Georgia and the Lions, but for this series my initial preference would have been in the tried pedigree of Francois Steyn.
The starting backline is the same that took the field against England in the 2019 World Cup final and 11 of those starting finalists will start against the Lions. It is the four who won’t start that are as significant as the settled starting 11 – and of course the absent two Steyn veterans.
And here we have it! The @Springboks Line Up to take on the British & Irish Lions this Saturday, 24 July.
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— ASICS_ZA (@ASICS_ZA) July 19, 2021