The first test is finally upon us, after a much-disrupted British and Irish Lions tour due to the 3rd wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa, this Saturday the core business of the tour – the Test series – will finally begin. The Springboks named a strong side with a surprise or two.
The biggest surprise may have been the selection of Ox Nche and Trevor Nyakane as starting props for the Springboks. Both are quality players and undoubtedly bring dynamism to the front row, but in a Test match as crucial as this one, one may have expected that the more technically proficient duo of Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe in the scrums may have got the nod.
Jacques Nienaber’s bold selections suggest there could be a different approach from the Springboks in trying to tame the Lions. Either way, the starting props will bring something different that the bench can’t and it could be the difference.
The debates have been ferocious and endless on who should wear the Bok no.8 jumper in Duane Vermeulen’s absence and Kwagga Smith emerged as the winner when he was named as the starting 8th man by Nienaber.
For whoever was going to be selected at 8, the key factor was always whether they got to play with Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit because, in the inspirational skipper and the workhorse that is du Toit, he could not have better back-row partners. The weight on Smith’s shoulders is instantly eased with the pair’s presence.
Springbok Key Pairing
There is a pair in the Springbok team that probably doesn’t get enough credit for what they do as a partnership. Do they have the telepathic understanding of the Gordon D’Arcy-Brian O’Driscoll partnership? Probably not, but the sum of their part is gold for the Boks.
With Damian de Allende’s brute power and robustness along with Lukhanyo Am’s silky skills, the Springboks are able to get the best out of the backline simply, because their centres bring a full bag of tricks. Nienaber will be hoping the same happens on Saturday.
Dynamite in Small Packages
Speaking of bags of tricks, it has become nigh on impossible not to identify Cheslin Kolbe as a player of great importance for the Springbok cause. That is not something you would have said every day considering how small players were for the most part overlooked in a Bok context.
Kolbe however has completely changed that; he is simply the Springboks’ most potent attacker and his presence will be crucial for them on Saturday. If the magic is to come from anywhere, the winger will most likely be the source.
Everything about the Springbok bench suggests they could up the tempo a bit later if one looks at the backline replacements, but if one looks a little further forward, the pack replacements are likely to come on and up the physicality.
This in all likelihood means the Boks are preparing for every kind of scenario in the last 20/30 minutes of the first Test against the British and Irish Lions.