Springbok depth continues to wow Wales: 'SA has a very rich and deep pool of players'

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Jacques Nienaber. (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images)
Jacques Nienaber. (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images)
  • The Springboks might be missing an array of world-class players but praise for their rich depth continued from opponents Wales.
  • Both sides are contending with key absentees but Duane Vermeulen and Pieter-Steph du Toit are standout omissions.
  • Wayne Pivac was reticent to draw from the British & Irish Lions series some of his players experienced in SA last year.

The Springboks might be missing an array of experienced world-class players but praise for their rich depth continues to pour in from the opposition camp.

Bok head coach Jacques Nienaber is like the Willy Wonka to Wales counterpart Wayne Pivac's Charlie Bucket, who is looking in from the outside at the magical world of the Springbok talent factory.

That is, at least, the hyperbolic comparison of the two squads, who've each had to contend with player losses but the hosts have retained their fearsome outlook.

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 key South African absentees, while Wales toured without Leigh Halfpenny, Johnny McNicholl, Ross Moriarty, Justin Tipuric and Aaron Wainwright.

The Boks were able to call on 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 the detonate the bomb squad.

For the first Test at Loftus on Saturday (17:05), Nienaber opted to go without his 2019 World Cup final flyhalf, Handre Pollard, in favour of understudy Elton Jantjies, a capable operator in his own right. Damian Willemse has also earned a small window into the No 15 jersey in Willie le Roux's place, who is on the six-two split bench.

"They are obviously class players and any side losing those class players will hurt," said Pivac.

"But South Africa has a very rich and deep pool of players. We've got a lot of respect for their squad, so no matter what combination goes out, we've got a job to do.

"We've got to make sure we are very good in the physical area of the game because we know what names are on the team sheet and we think we know what's coming.

"There're a few guys missing from both sides but we've got to focus totally on this first Test and on ourselves to make sure we have our game plan in order."

For the first time, South African and Welsh rugby have had the same rugby calendar after the country joined Europe's PRO Rugby to form the United Rugby Championship (URC).

South African sides performed above expectation, leading to the Stormers and Bulls contesting the inaugural final in Cape Town.

Welsh teams failed to progress further than the round-robin stage, meaning Pivac's 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 exited at the hands of the Bulls in the quarter-finals at Loftus on 5 June.

READ | Duane-less SA will miss Vermeulen's experience, but 'Wiese's been amazing' - Faletau

Pivac reckons this evens the scales somewhat for their team, who have been written off in many sections.

"It's probably more of a level playing field, where in other times when we come together for our autumn tour, it might not be," said Pivac.

"It's exciting for us to have that level playing field in terms of time together as squads, so it makes the first Test vital for both teams.

"We've had a lot of our players because of the performances of our teams in the URC but South Africa has come together from an array of countries."

Pivac was reticent to draw from the British & Irish Lions series some of his players experienced in SA last year, especially regarding playing style.

But he mentioned that they kept an eye on the conditions they would face, the altitude challenge in Pretoria and Bloemfontein before finishing off in Cape Town.

"It's a different team, isn't it. Three other countries are missing," Pivac said, part truism, part rhetorical.

"It's (the Lions tour) not really that relevant for me personally; it's about our group and how we can improve our performance from our last outing, which was a poor one.

"Everybody does their homework and we're no different. We know what we think is coming and we looked at the last time we played them, in wet conditions that evening.

"We are at altitude in the first Test and at sea-level in the last Test, so we factor those things in and see how we've trained in the conditions that we've been in.

"Come Saturday, we've got a game plan fit for this venue and the opposition." 


South Africa

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

Substitutes: 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 Reffell, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Adam Beard, 4 Will Rowlands, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Gareth Thomas 

Substitutes: 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

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