Siya Kolisi passed fit to lead South Africa in first Lions Test

Springboks captain starts in Cape Town after 10 days isolating following positive Covid test

Siya Kolisi has been passed fit to lead South Africa against the Lions on Saturday. Photograph: Phil Magakoe/Getty/AFP

Siya Kolisi has been passed fit to lead South Africa against the Lions on Saturday. Photograph: Phil Magakoe/Getty/AFP

 

In what seems like both a show of strength and a statement of intent, Jacques Nienaber has unveiled a strong South African side for Saturday’s first Test, featuring 16 of their match-day 23 from the World Cup final, despite the clear disruptions caused by an outbreak of covid in the Springboks’ camp.

Inspirational World Cup-winning captain Siya Kolisi, as well as winger Makazole Mapimpi and hooker Bongi Mbonambi were among six players who spent 10 days in isolation back in their Johannesburg base before joining up with the squad in Cape Town on Monday.

After undergoing medical tests, all three have been named in the starting XV. Kolisi has played one game, against Georgia last month, since the World Cup final, and ditto Mbonambi, whereas Mapimpi has played for the Boks since scoring the first try against England 21 months ago. It means that the entire backline from that final will line-up at the start of the first Test in Cape Town Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 5pm Irish time, live on Sky Sports).

Nienaber admitted he was “very happy” to have Kolisi back. “He’s a player that we have worked with for quite some time. He knows our structures and then obviously he’s been our captain. It’s always nice to have his calmness so yes I’m very happy to have him back.”

The entire 2019 Rugby World Cup-winning squad, except for the retired trio of Tendai Mtawarira, Francois Louw and Schalk Brits, and the injured Warrick Gelant, were named in the full 48-man squad and the match-day squad has 553 caps.

However their starting number ‘8’ in the World Cup, Duane Vermeulen has been sidelined with an ankle injury which he sustained in the Bulls’ Rainbow Cup game against the Stormers last month. It has been speculated that the 34-year-old might be fit for the third Test.

Handré Pollard will earn his 50th cap and has been named vice-captain to Kolisi, with 21 players in the match-23 having featured in the Springboks’ triumphant campaign in Japan in 2019.

The entire pack of forwards, the halfback pairing of Pollard and Faf de Klerk (scrumhalf) and Willie le Roux (fullback) started the Test against Georgia which the Springboks won 40-9 a little over two weeks ago. Six of this starting line-up were not in the ‘A side which beat the Lions a week ago, namely Mapimpi, Pollard, loosehead Ox Nché, Mbonambi, Kolisi and number ‘8’ Kwagga Smith. Interestingly, Nienaber has reverted to a 5-3 split on the bench rather that 6-2 so-called Bomb Squad employed in the knock-out stages of the World Cup.

“We have played three matches in the last few weeks with the Springboks facing Georgia and South Africa ‘A’ lining up against the British & Irish Lions and the Vodacom Bulls, and the first two matches in particular allowed us to settle a few player combinations that haven’t played since the Rugby World Cup final,” said Nienaber.

“We planned our team selections carefully, which is why it was important for us to play a third match after the second Test against Georgia was cancelled, and we know what the players we selected can do.

“The fact that most of the players participated in the Rugby World Cup means they know one another well on and off the field, and as coaches we know what they have to offer after having worked with most of them for several years.”

Nienaber allayed concerns that introducing players who had recovered from Covid-19 could place his team at a disadvantage as they prepare to face the best of the best in the northern hemisphere.

“Some of the players didn’t have Covid-19 symptoms at all, they have been managed according their individual needs, and they have really impressed me with their intensity and enthusiasm at training,” he said.

“The well-being of our players is of paramount importance, so we have been working closely with the medical team to work out what would be the best course of action for each player over the three-Test Series.”

Nienaber expected a brutal battle against the British and Irish tourists, who have matched their physicality with enterprising play by the backs so far on their tour to South Africa.

“The forward battle is going to be as tough as it gets, so it’s important that we pitch up physically and ensure that we make our presence felt in the set pieces and at the contact points,” added the Boks coach.

“This, combined with their hard-running backs, will test our defensive system, but we have been looking forward to these matches since the Rugby World Cup concluded and we have done our homework, so it is a case of doing everything at 100 per cent and sticking to our structures.”

Springbok team to face the British & Irish Lions at Cape Town Stadium: Willie le Roux; Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi; Handré Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Ox Nché, Bongi Mbonambi, Trevor Nyakane; Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert; Siya Kolisi (captain), Pieter-Steph du Toit, Kwagga Smith. Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Lood de Jager, Rynhardt Elstadt, Herschel Jantjies, Elton Jantjies, Damian Willemse.

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