Lukhanyo Am set to captain Springboks in first Test against British Lions
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DURBAN – A fortnight ago, there was a concern that the Springboks would be unable to put a competitive team on the field against the Lions thanks to the Covid outbreak in their ranks.
A match against Georgia was cancelled but since then most of the pieces have been drifting back into the puzzle for coach Jacques Nienaber – including himself!
Hence, the team for the first Test on Saturday will be mostly World Cup winners, even if some will be short of a gallop.
Notably, it looks like captain Siya Kolisi could be an absentee. On Sunday, he had still not be cleared of Covid-19 while others – Bongi Mbonambi, Scarra Ntubeni and Dan Du Plessis – had and were given the green light to join the camp in Cape Town.
This is what the team will probably look like but the positions of No 8, No 6 and No 5 are hardly clear-cut.
15 Willie le Roux: Nienaber has said that Willie’s ankle injury is history and even though he was very average for the SA A team against the Lions, his experience will earn him the nod.
14 Cheslin Kolbe: Thank goodness the match-winner has come through Covid and potential injury unscathed. He is a crucial player for the Boks because of his ability and inspirational presence. I would play Kolbe at fullback ahead of non-confrontational Willie, where he would get more counter-attacking opportunities plus it would also allow for the inclusion of the combative Sbu Nkosi, but this is an argument for another day.
13 Lukhanyo Am: An automatic choice and his strong performance against the Lions for SA A was timely. If Kolisi cannot play, he would be a natural captaincy choice.
12 Damian de Allende: It was touch and go for the burn victim to make the party, but he has, and thank goodness for that. He is a vital player for the Boks.
11 Makazole Mapimpi: We hear that he will be cleared of Covid in time to make this first Test and while he will not have trained much, he has been part of the Bok set-up since 2018 and is in superb physical condition. He will be good to go.
10 Handre Pollard: He has not played much but he is so important to the Boks that Rassie will pick him if he is only on one leg. The difference in class between Pollard and the next in line is significant and it was reassuring to see Pollard in the stands on Saturday, so that means he is in the clear.
9 Faf de Klerk: To have him and Pollard starting on Saturday in this vitally important combination is huge for the Boks. The experience and energy Faf brings is priceless to the Boks.
8 Jasper Wiese: The newcomer probably did enough for SA A to retain his place in the void left by Duane Vermeulen. In what will be the tightest selections, there is a solid argument for Kwagga Smith, and the physicality of Dan du Preez cannot be discounted. Any one of these three could end up with the nod.
7 Pieter-Steph du Toit: He took a knock the other night against the Lions but thank heavens he is fine. His colossal presence is massive for his team.
6 Marco van Staden: The intimations are that Kolisi will not be fit for the first Test and in Van Staden the Boks will have a player that is excellent over the ball. The Lions have plenty of scavengers in their pack and the Boks need at least one.
5 Franco Mostert: A combination of Etzebeth and Lood de Jager would be first prize but with Lood only just cleared of injury and very short of game time, he possibly won’t be picked. I think he should though because where else is going to get game time? And he oozes class... But in Mostert the Boks have an engine that never stops running. Workhorses don’t come more honest than Mostert.
4 Eben Etzebeth: He was immense for SA A against the Lions. He is the pillar around which the pack is built and is irreplaceable.
3 Frans Malherbe: We will forgive his portly condition because at scrum time he delivers, so let him have his pies as long as he keeps the scrum rock solid. Trevor Nyakane did not fully grasp his opportunity the other night.
2 Bongi Mbonambi: He has been cleared for selection and while Joseph Dweba and Malcolm Marx were impressive for SA A, I see no reason why Rassie and Nienaber won’t revert to their World Cup combo of Bongi starting and Marx making a serious impact in the second half.
1 Steven Kitshoff: One of the best and most influential rugby players in the country, this is the time for the ginger ninja to shine. There could not be a better replacement for The Beast.