Springbok depth continues to impress Wales: ‘SA have a very rich and deep pool of players’
- The Springboks might lack a range of world-class players, but the praise for their rich depth continued from opponents Wales.
- Both teams are struggling with key absentees, but Duane Vermeulen and Pieter-Steph du Toit are notable omissions.
- Wayne Pivac was reluctant to fire some of his experienced players in South Africa from the British & Irish Lions series last year.
The Springboks may lack an array of world-class experienced players, but praise for their rich depth continues to pour in from the opposing side.
Bok head coach Jacques Nienaber is like the Charlie Bucket of his Welsh counterpart Wayne Pivac, who watches the magical world of the Springbok talent factory from the outside.
That is, at least, the hyperbolic comparison of the two teams, who each had to deal with player losses, but the hosts retained their fearsome prospects.
READ | Wales seek balanced approach to counter Bok muscle: ‘We can’t get caught playing Sevens’
Duane Vermeulen and Pieter-Steph du Toit are the main South African absentees, while Wales have turned without Leigh Halfpenny, Johnny McNicholl, Ross Moriarty, Justin Tipuric and Aaron Wainwright.
The Boks were able to bring in Gallagher Premiership winner Jasper Wiese and versatile monster truck Franco Mostert to partner Siya Kolisi in the back row, while adding Elrigh Louw and Kwagga Smith to blast the bomb squad.
For the first test at the Loftus on Saturday (5:05 p.m.), Nienaber opted to dispense with his 2019 World Cup final fly-half Handre Pollard in favor of understudy Elton Jantjies, a capable operator in his own right. Damian Willemse also earned a small window on the No.15 shirt in place of Willie le Roux, who is on the bench split six-two.
“They are obviously class players and any team losing these class players will hurt,” Pivac said.
“But South Africa have a very rich and deep pool of players. We have a lot of respect for their team, so whatever combination comes out, we have a job to do.
“We have to make sure we’re very good at the physical part of the game because we know which names are on the team sheet and we think we know what’s coming.
“There are a few guys missing on both sides but we need to be totally focused on this first test and on ourselves to make sure our game plan is in order.”
For the first time, South African and Welsh rugby have had the same rugby schedule after the country joined European PRO Rugby to form the United Rugby Championship (URC).
The South African teams exceeded expectations, which led to the Stormers and Bulls playing the inaugural final in Cape Town.
The Welsh sides failed to progress further than the round robin stage, meaning Pivac had his unit for as long as possible while plotting a way to topple the mighty Springboks.
The Boks, meanwhile, had their first camp after the Sharks’ exit at the hands of the Bulls in the quarter-finals at Loftus on June 5.
READ | Vermeulen’s experience will be missed by Duane-less SA, but ‘Wiese has been amazing’ – Faletau
Pivac feels this somewhat evens the scales for their team, which has been written off in many sections.
“It’s probably more of an even playing field, whereas at other times when we get together for our fall tour, that might not be the case,” Pivac said.
“It’s exciting for us to have this level playing field in terms of time together as teams, so that makes the first test vital for both teams.
“We had a lot of our players because of the performances of our teams in the URC, but South Africa came together from a range of countries.”
Pivac was reluctant to pull some of his experienced players in South Africa from the British & Irish Lions series last year, particularly in terms of style of play.
But he mentioned they were keeping an eye on the conditions they would face, the altitude challenge in Pretoria and Bloemfontein before finishing in Cape Town.
“It’s a different team, isn’t it. Three more countries are missing,” Pivac said, part truism, part rhetoric.
“It’s (the Lions tour) not really relevant to me personally; it’s about our group and how we can improve our performance since our last outing, which was poor.
“Everyone does their homework and we’re no different. We know what we think is coming and we watched the last time we played them, in wet conditions that night.
“We are at altitude in the first test and at sea level in the last test, so we take those things into account and see how we trained in the conditions we found ourselves in.
“Come on Saturday, we have a game plan suited to this venue and the opposition.”
15 Damian Willemse, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Franco Mostert, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche
Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Elrigh Louw, 21 Kwagga Smith, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Willie le Roux
15 Liam Williams, 14 Louis Rees-Zammit, 13 George North, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar (captain), 9 Kieran Hardy, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Tommy Refell, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Adam Beard, 4 Will Rowlands, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Gareth Thomas
Subs: 16 Dewi Lake, 17 Rhys Carre, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Alun Wyn Jones, 20 Josh Navidi, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Owen Watkin