With the exception of the injury-enforced absence of Pieter-Steph Du Toit and Faf De Klerk, the Springbok 23 that will face the Lions in the series decider on Saturday is the most balanced team available, and the best equipped to win the series in classic Springbok style, writes Oliver Keohane.
Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus have picked the best available players and combinations, both starting and on the bench, to win the Springboks the series.
The first two tests showed the disastrous effect of poor bench selections, and then the game-changing nature of proper ones, and the Springbok team for the series decider represents a bench that adds perfect balance to the starting side, in the context of the Springboks style of rugby.
Faf De Klerk’s absence is big, he is a key player in the Springboks’ direct approach and disruptive approach. What is bigger is that Nienaber has backed Cobus Reinach in his role as a starting player, and trusted that he will deliver in order to keep the dynamic Herschel Jantjies on the bench. Reinach’s starting position is not an oversight of Jantjies, but rather a consideration of the role both players will play, at different stages in the match. Kudos to Nienaber for trusting his systems.
Aside from scrumhalf, great comfort should be taken from the fact that the rest of the backline remains unchanged to the one that emphatically beat the Lions 27-9 last week, and in 2019 destroyed England 32-12 in the World Cup Final. That continuity is a luxury that the Lions, who have chopped and changed their backline for the final test, simply do not have.
Lood De Jager starting at lock is huge, and last week showed that Franco Mostert on the flank, with De Jager next to Eben Etzebeth in the second row, is the combination that the Springboks need to be starting with to secure lineout and set-piece dominance from the get go. Kwagga Smith is not a starting number 8, but he is a great buffer on the bench to allow Jasper Wiese to empty the tank physically for 60 minutes before coming on against tired legs. Marco Van Staden has proved impactful at the break down and his presence allows for either a straight swap with one of the flankers, or for Mostert to move into lock if injury or fitness proves a problem for either of the starting locks.
Trevor Nyakane, Malcolm Marx and Vincent Koch made a powerful statement in the return of the bomb squad in last weekend’s victory, and the decision to keep the starting and replacement front rows unchanged is a huge boost to Springbok hopes. The functioning of Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi and Frans Malherbe as a starting trio, in combination with the previously mentioned replacements, reinforces again the importance of the identification of players’ specific roles within the context of the full 80 minutes.
Damian Willemse will be prepared for the biggest game of his life to date, as he acts as injury cover for almost the entire backline, but the selection of Morne Steyn to accompany him on the bench as a specialist flyhalf is a brilliant one. Steyn is a match winner and a big-moment man, and this time 12 years ago he was a winner in the biggest moment as he kicked the Springboks to victory over the British & Irish Lions. It is a beautiful rugby story that Steyn, at 37, may play a role in the series decider as the first Springbok to face the British & Irish Lions twice in his life.
The Springboks opted for a 5-3 bench split in their opening loss to the British & Irish Lions, and post the match the selection failings were glaringly obvious. They enter the final match again with a 5-3 split, but with a team whose selections from one to 23 speak emphatically to the strengths of each player and each combination. The same could not be said for that opening match.
Consistency will prove key as a settled Springbok side face a Lions team with six changes to their starting lineup, and while Saturday will still be brutal, the Springboks have put forward the best possible 23-man combination the South African public could have hoped for, injuries aside.
SEE: Springbok side to face the Lions for the series decider
🇿🇦 BREAKING: The Springbok team for the #CastleLionsSeries decider
👏 50 up for De Allende as Reinach and Steyn are called up
🗣️ "It was important to maintain consistency in selection"
🔗 Team announcement: https://t.co/gD3tFd82dZ#StrongerTogether #StrongerForever pic.twitter.com/WO8J8Me8jw
— Springboks (@Springboks) August 3, 2021
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