British & Irish Lions

How Aphelele Fassi impressed Bok coach to earn debut after 'close contact' Mapimpi ruled out

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Siya Kolisi (L) and Aphelele Fassi (R). (Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images)
Siya Kolisi (L) and Aphelele Fassi (R). (Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images)
  • Aphelele Fassi was named to start at left wing after Makazole Mapimpi was forced to self-isolate as he was one of the close contacts to the three Springboks that tested positive for Covid last weekend.
  • Bok head coach Jacques Nienaber named his team on Tuesday for the first Test against Georgia at Loftus on Friday.
  • Fassi was one of three debutants in the match 23, including livewire Rosko Specman and breakout No 8 Jasper Wiese.

Aphelele Fassi was named to start at left wing after Makazole Mapimpi was forced to self-isolate as the latter was one of the close contacts to the three Springboks that tested positive for Covid last weekend.

Head coach Jacques Nienaber confirmed the news at his team announcement press conference on Tuesday ahead of the first Test against Georgia at Loftus on Friday.

Sharks wing Sbu Nkosi, Saracens prop Vincent Koch and Stormers scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies tested positive for Covid-19, forcing Sunday's training session to be cancelled and the team to immediately self-isolate.

The British and Irish Lions series medical advisory team later cleared the squad to return to training, including Jantjies.

Jesse Kriel also seized the opportunity after regular No 13 Lukhanyo Am was also identified as a close contact to the positive cases.

Despite the opportunity being presented in awkward circumstances, Nienaber said the 23-year-old Sharks fullback impressed them at wing during the training camps, hence his elevation to start on debut come Friday.

"We had picked the team on Saturday evening, but we hadn't announced the team," Nienaber said candidly.

"On Sunday, we obviously had the Covid issues within the camp. I don't want to go into too much detail and specifics, but we want to be as transparent as possible.

"The only two guys that got influenced by the [Covid positive tests] were Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am. They were close contacts, so they went into isolation immediately.

"That's how Aphelele Fassi and Jesse Kriel got into the mix. He (Fassi) trained with us in the conditioning weeks at wing.

"He's new in the squad, but he's a very talented player, and he's got a massive skill set. I know he plays at 15 for his franchise predominantly, but he's slotted in beautifully at wing.

"With Willie (le Roux), Handre (Pollard), Jesse and Lukhanyo... there's good guidance around him. He's slotted in nicely."

Fassi is one of three debutants in the match 23, including his wing partner Rosko Specman, who has lit up the 15-man game since switching from Sevens a few seasons ago.

Specman's transition, lively personality and sheer eye for the tryline have endeared him to many coaches, and team-mates post his Rio Olympics success with the Blitzboks in 2016.

"Rosko is a live wire and brings a lot of energy," said Nienaber.

"He's a really funny guy off the field, and he's always got a smile on his face. But, I must say, when it comes to the rugby side of things, he's a full professional.

"It's well documented how successful he was at Sevens as part of the (2016) Olympic bronze medallist team.

"He's played a lot of tournaments on the big stage. On the field, he's very professional but off it, he's a fun guy, makes people laugh and brings a lot of energy."

Springbok squad:


Thomas du Toit, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Frans Malherbe, Ox Nche, Trevor Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen, Joseph Dweba, Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi, Scarra Ntubeni, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, Franco Mostert, Marvin Orie, RG Snyman, Dan du Preez, Jean-Luc du Preez, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Rynhardt Elstadt, Siya Kolisi, Kwagga Smith, Marco van Staden, Duane Vermeulen, Jasper Wiese


Faf de Klerk, Herschel Jantjies, Sanele Nohamba, Cobus Reinach, Elton Jantjies, Handre Pollard, Morne Steyn, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Jesse Kriel, Wandisile Simelane, Frans Steyn, Aphelele Fassi, Cheslin Kolbe, Willie le Roux, Makazole Mapimpi, Sbu Nkosi, Yaw Penxe, Rosko Specman, Damian Willemse

The third debutant, Leicester Tigers No 8 Jasper Wiese, was named on the bench, with Kwagga Smith filling injured Duane Vermeulen's big starting back-row jumper.

"Jasper Wise has been outstanding in the Premiership in terms of getting and stopping momentum," the Bok head coach said.

"He was one of the guys that knocked the door down in terms of letting us take note of his performances over there."


South Africa

15 Willie le Roux, 14 Rosko Specman, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Aphelele Fassi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Cobus Reinach, 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

Substitutes: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Jasper Wiese, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Damian Willemse



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