Jacques Nienaber and Warren Gatland both played their cards in terms of personnel, and the stage is now set for the first Test between the Springboks and the British & Irish Lions at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday.
There were very few surprises in Springbok’s squad on match day, with Nienaber supporting the same players who did the trick for South Africa at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
The Lions, however, are fielding a team that raised a few eyebrows.
However, one thing that cannot be disputed is the quality both sides possess, and most critics agree that the series is too close to be called.
It’s the world champions who take on the world’s most famous tourists, and here we take a look at some of the most intriguing matches to look forward to on Saturday.
Handre Pollard vs. Dan Biggar
Who could forget the 2019 Rugby World Cup semi-final? That day, Pollard was the general who came out on top, but damn it, how close!
From a South African perspective, the concern here is that Pollard was one of the victims of Covid-19 in Bok’s squad and that he is running out of high-intensity playing time this year, given his recovering from a knee injury. He remains the conductor of South Africa, and he will have to be at his best if the Boks are to play the game from the right areas of the park and put the Lions under territorial pressure.
Biggar’s pick before Farrell tells you everything you need to know about how the Lions will play. His boot, as always, will be his main weapon.
Cheslin Kolbe vs. Duhan van der Merwe
As Sport24 writer Khanyiso Tshwaku wrote on Thursday, this might be the sexiest battle in the park.
Kolbe remains one of the most devastating wingers in world rugby, with his pace, natural X-factor and incredible ability to progress separating him from the rest. What many forget, however, is that Kolbe is as strong as anyone defensively and in air combat. All of this combined makes him the all-around player, and his ability to create magic from scratch is a huge asset to the Boks.
The South African Van der Merwe, meanwhile, won in the selection. The 26-year-old has been devastating on this tour and in the months leading up to it. He’s fit, quick and physical, and the prospect of him facing Kolbe – both on defense and offense – is enticing.
Trevor Nyakane vs. Wyn Jones / Ox Nche vs. Tadhg Furlong
The battle for the front row, as always, will be huge on Saturday, with set-piece dominance seen as key for both camps.
Nyakane had his place for the 2019 World Cup stolen due to an injury, and this is the opportunity for him to make a statement in Bok’s colors. There have been some concerns about his scrum in recent weeks, and with Frans Malherbe on the bench, he will want to put in the most solid performance.
His direct opponent is Welsh mainstay Wyn Jones, who established himself in the starting lineup thanks to his performances in matches on the South Africa tour.
Nche, meanwhile, will only play his second test match and have not played in a more important game in his life. His opponent is Tadhg Furlon – a veteran of 49 test matches for Ireland and three for the Lions in 2017.
At the whistle for this first scrum on Saturday, the first two rows will want to set the tone, and it promises to be explosive.
Faf de Klerk vs. Ali Price
Price’s selection ahead of Conor Murray, who was due to become Lions captain before Alun Wyn Jones returns, came as a surprise. Still, it’s hard to see the Lions lose anything there, given how impressive the prize has been in South Africa. He has 42 tests for his country, and his quick service and handling of the game was noticed on this tour.
However, De Klerk remains by far the No. 9 Springboks’ first choice and a vital cog in their machine. As was the case in RWC 2019, he will need to do a lot of kicking which will need to be smart and precise.
Whether it’s upfront or out of hand, his execution that day will be the key to South Africa’s success.
Siya Kolisi vs. Alun Wyn Jones
Okay, it’s not a positional duel, but the fact that these two players will lead their teams on Saturday is immense.
Kolisi was in doubt after picking up Covid and was understood to be a touch and go for selection, while Wyn Jones’ recovery from a shoulder injury has been called “miraculous”.
Kolisi is South Africa’s fearless leader, and his presence in the team brings an element of calm and stability. Boks without Kolisi, considering what was achieved in 2019, just wouldn’t feel good in a test of this magnitude.
The same can be said for Wyn Jones, who will serve as an inspiration to the Lions just by being in the park.
The physical form of the match of both players will obviously be in the spotlight, but their inclusion enhanced the show as a whole.
15 Willie Le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Kwagga Smith, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche
Alternates: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Rynhardt Elstadt, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Damian Willemse
British and Irish Lions
15 Stuart Hogg (Scotland), 14 Anthony Watson (England), 13 Elliot Daly (England), 12 Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), 11 Duhan van der Merwe (Scotland), 10 Dan Biggar (Wales), 9 Ali Price ( Scotland), 8 Jack Conan (Ireland), 7 Tom Curry (England), 6 Courtney Lawes (England), 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain, Wales), 4 Maro Itoje (England), 3 Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), 2 Luke Cowan- Dickie (England), 1 Wyn Jones (Wales)
Alternates: 16 Ken Owens (Wales), 17 Rory Sutherland (Scotland), 18 Kyle Sinckler (England), 19 Tadhg Beirne (Ireland), 20 Hamish Watson (Scotland), 21 Conor Murray (Ireland), 22 Owen Farrell ( England), 23 Liam Williams (Wales)