The Springboks have three months before the series opener against British & Irish Lions – and it is looking good for South Africa.
As a reminder, these are the terrific match-day 23 that scrummed England into submission in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final. Due to #Covid19, the world champion Springboks haven’t since played a Test.
However, lost Test match time cannot detract from the potency of the Springboks match day 23 that should start the three-Test series at the Cape Town Stadium in Cape Town. But for one noticeable absentee in the retired looshead prop Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira, Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber could comfortably select nearly every one of those 23 Rainbow Warriors.
Springboks 2019 World Cup final match day 23 : Willie Le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk, Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Steph Du Toit, Siya Kolisi, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Mbongeni Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, RG Snyman, Franco Mostert, Francois Louw, Herschel Jantjies, Frans Steyn.
It is rare for any World Cup final winning squad to have so many of the winners available for selection two years later and it says everything about the positivity of a successful 2023 Rugby World Cup defence in France in 2023.
If the Springboks had to play the Lions this Saturday, you’d question the match fitness of Pieter-Steph du Toit and Handre Pollard, who this past weekend made successful returns to rugby after nearly a year absence because of injury. Both excelled, with Du Toit playing for 80 minutes for the Stormers against the Sharks in the Rainbow Cup and Pollard introduced as a second half substitute in Montpellier’s 19-10 European Shield Challenge semi-final against Bath.
The great news for the Bok coaching staff is that Du Toit and Pollard can only be stronger in two months time. If fit, they will definitely be starting. Du Toit was the 2019 World Player of the Year and Pollard scored a Springboks record 22 points in a World Cup final.
Locks RG Snyman and Lood de Jager would both be unavailable if the Test was to be played on Saturday. Snyman is just about to make his comeback after a year out of the game because of injury and De Jager is in a race against time. Eben Etzebeth is a fortnight away from returning after breaking a finger playing for Toulon. The lock stocks, so imposing at the World Cup, right at this moment, look vulnerable but in a month to two’s time they will look as menacing as they did in Tokyo, Japan.
If fit, the only change I would make to the starting XV is Steven Kitshoff in for the retired Mtawarira. The rest are all still the best in their positions or the best suited to start for the Springboks when consideration is given to the most impactful match-day 23.
There isn’t a player who wouldn’t warrant selection, based on form and pedigree. The next best haven’t done enough to break the match-winning formula, but it is pleasing that there are several players who could step in to a Test match situation in most of the positions.
The one position that doesn’t have a like for like replacement is at No 8. There is no South African No 8 the equal of Duane Vermeulen. Pollard also offers unique qualities at No 10, but in Morne Steyn and Elton Jantjies there is experience and enough quality to do the job.
It is looking seriously good for the Springboks. Zelim Nel and myself debated the merits of the ‘next best’ if none of the starting XV were available and the 40 000 votes were cast by readers of SA Rugby Magazine and Keo.co.za as to their preferred back up XV. It made for impressive depth among South African rugby.
Add in the fact that 21 South Africans will play in the two European finals at Twickenham on 21st and 22nd May, and the amount of influence from South Africans in the Japanese domestic league.
Continuity favours the Springboks and their coaching staff.
Not so, Warren Gatland’s British & Irish Lions.
Gatland, coach of the Lions in 2013 and 2017, will confirm his 36-strong tourists on Thursday, 6th May, and some of those players who would have been certainties to the Test side a year ago may struggle to make the squad.
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones will be named captain of a side that is bound to have a strong Welsh flavour, given Wales’s Six Nations triumph and Gatland’s history with Wales, having coached the national team for 12 years.
Everything in the build-up to the most anticipated rugby series of the year will make Springboks supporters feel more comfortable than their Lions counterparts.
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