British & Irish Lions

Nienaber on finally naming his first Bok team: 'You almost felt it's never going to happen'

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Jacques Nienaber (AFP)
Jacques Nienaber (AFP)
  • Springbok head coach Jacques Nienaber marked the occasion of naming his first Springbok Test team by going with an exciting blend of newcomers and wise World Cup winners.
  • It's taken Nienaber 18 months since his appointment to finally pen a team that will play, 20 months after the Springboks beat England in Japan.
  • Nienaber said they'd focus on picking strong teams for the two Georgia Tests and SA 'A' match prior to the Lions series.

Springbok head coach Jacques Nienaber marked the occasion of naming his first Springbok Test team by going with an exciting blend of newcomers and wily World Cup winners.

Topping the X-factor charts in the 23 to face Georgia at Loftus on Friday (19:00 kick-off) were Sharks fullback Aphelele Fassi and Cheetahs flyer Rosko Specman starting at wing, with Kwagga Smith moving to No 8 and Jasper Wiese his understudy on the bench.

It's taken Nienaber 18 months since his appointment on 24 January 2020 to finally pen a team that will play (all things considered), 20 months after the Springboks beat England in Japan to lift the Rugby World Cup in 2019.

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

"I must say, it's awesome," Nienaber said.

"Since my announcement as Springbok coach in January 2020, it feels so long ago, and it is long ago.

"You almost felt at some stage it's never going to happen. I'm pretty excited that it's actually here, and we are a couple of days away from playing our first Test match in a very long time.

"I'm super excited, as is the squad.

"The two wings Aphelele and Rosko really trained well in the conditioning camps we had in Bloemfontein.

"The importance of having Willie le Roux, Handre Pollard and Jesse Kriel, who is a very vocal guy on the field, is going to be massive for the debutants.

"But I must say they bring some X-factor to the game and their own little bit of spice to the game. I'm very much looking forward to seeing them play.

"On Jasper Wiese, we followed him closely while he was a Leicester in the Premiership, and he really knocked the door down in terms of his performance, so we're excited to see him come off the bench."

Nienaber, who took over the reins from the director of rugby Rassie Erasmus, who held both roles, said the limited time and matches available before the British and Irish Lions tour began necessitated fairly strong squads to be picked.

Flyhalf Handre Pollard, who recovered from a serious knee injury, has been thrown straight into the mix, while Eben Etzebeth also starts with second-row partner Franco Mostert.

The front row saw Ox Nche return to the fold after his sole 2018 Test cap, scrumming down with hooker Bongi Mbonambi and tighthead Trevor Nyakane.

"With the limited time available, and with three matches to go before facing the Lions, two against Georgia and one against SA 'A', we said from the start that we would select the best available team for the outcome we want in that specific game," said Nienaber.

"This was the best available team that we could select to get a desired outcome in the game. We would love to give everybody a chance in the next three games so that we can make a proper, informed decision in terms of selection for the first Lions Test.

"But we obviously have to go with a lot of guys that we've coached for a long time and have been in our system and have a good understanding of what we're trying to achieve.

"We would like to give guys like Aphelele and Rosko a chance in these games to see how they fit into our structures and into the Springboks.

"It's going to be a balance between getting our rhythm as quickly as possible but also giving as much opportunity as we can to new guys."


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



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

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