Final pieces of puzzle fall into place for Boks as Kolisi, Hendrikse and Nche back in action

Final pieces of puzzle fall into place for Boks as Kolisi, Hendrikse and Nche back in action
Siya Kolisi of South Africa during the third Incoming Series Test between South Africa and Wales on 16 July 2022 in Cape Town. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber will hopefully find s0me answers to pressing questions when his side meets Wales in Cardiff on Saturday in their penultimate outing before Rugby World Cup 2023.

The biggest question for the Boks and coach Jacques Nienaber will be over the form of skipper Siya Kolisi against Wales, at Principality Stadium this weekend. 

After four months out of the game following knee ligament surgery, it’s obvious Kolisi won’t be at his absolute best. And he is unlikely to play the full 80 minutes. 

Kolisi’s outing is as much about building his own confidence in a match situation as it is about giving him the chance to play himself into form.

Coming through the encounter, however long he is on the field, unscathed, is the main priority, and then assessing how far behind he is after such a lengthy lay-off will be a secondary consideration. 

Nienaber has little doubt that Kolisi is ready, from a physical standpoint, for the rigours of Test rugby. He praised the skipper’s work ethic and commitment to fighting to make it back on the field. 

Kolisi drew strength from fellow players in the squad, and Nienaber also praised everyone who had a hand in helping the captain back to the field.

“I don’t think people understand the sacrifices Siya has made to get to the point where he is ready to play rugby, nor how hard his support team has worked,” Nienaber said. 

“From the beginning of his rehabilitation, he has had weekly markers set by the medical team that he had to achieve. He never missed one marker because he put in an outstanding effort to get through the injury, stage by stage.

Captain Siya Kolisi during South Africa’s team training session at Cardiff Metropolitan University on 15 August 2023 in Wales. (Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images)

Encouragement from others injured 

“Siya drew a lot of encouragement from guys who had similar injuries.

He’s mentioned that whenever he felt unsure, he always went to them, and they told him this and that was good, and they felt the same way,” Nienaber revealed this week.

“It probably amplifies the fact that if you’re willing to get your head into something and be willing to work hard, with specialists around you, along with being willing to make sacrifices, anything is possible. 

“One also needs to look at the holistic view, starting from the surgeon because he must have been excellent because the operation was a success.

“It had to be spot-on, neat and tidy, from where you spend more time with the physio getting more time from a range-of-movement perspective when the inflammation goes down after surgery. 

“You can only push as hard as you recover and when he pushed, they needed to make sure the recovery was on point. It was a full-on medical team effort.” 

Jean Kleyn of Munster during the URC final between DHL Stormers and Munster in Cape Town. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

Key questions solved? 

Another key question will be the form of scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse, who was selected for the World Cup without playing Test this year. A shoulder injury and the death of his father set him back, but he’s raring to get into the action again.

At one stage in 2022, Hendrikse usurped Faf de Klerk as the first-choice scrumhalf. However, with the rise of Grant Williams, Faf’s return to form and the ever-consistent Cobus Reinach also in the squad, this could be Hendrikse’s only chance to move to the top of the halfback pile. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Bok fringe players pose tough questions for management before RWC 2023 squad announcement

Loosehead Ox Nche is also making his first appearance in Bok colours this season, following a pectoral muscle injury.

“We have two Tests left before we begin our Rugby World Cup campaign, and our focus now is to start building momentum and continuity so that we can peak at the right time for our opening game against Scotland in just under four weeks,” said Nienaber.

“We gave most of the players in the expanded squad a run in the last four matches and they are now battle-hardened, and we know anyone in this squad can step in and rise to the challenge whenever they are selected.

“Siya and Ox have been working extremely hard on their rehabilitation over the course of several weeks, and it’s fantastic that everything worked out according to plan to allow us to select them for this match.

“They have two matches to build up their match fitness before the World Cup, and although it will be important to manage their load in the match, it’s vital that they return to the field as they are key players in our setup.

“Jaden was unfortunate not to play in the last few weeks, but he is a top-class player and he’s been training hard, so we are pleased that he’ll finally get his chance this weekend. Unlike Siya and Ox, he’s been training fully with us for weeks, so it’s a matter of getting back into game mode for him.” 

RG Snyman of Munster during the United Rugby Championship final between DHL Stormers and Munster on 27 May 2023 in Cape Town. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

Munster monsters 

The side has a strong backbone of experience, but the second row of RG Snyman and Jean Kleyn is callow by Test standards. The two locks have never played a Test together but they are Munster teammates, although their time together has been limited to Snyman’s three years of injury battles. 

Potentially though, the two have the makings of a fine Test combination with the 2.06-metre Snyman the more athletic, mobile lock, and Kleyn more of an “enforcer”.

Kleyn was a surprise call-up to the Bok squad this year after becoming eligible, having played Tests for Ireland in 2019. Snyman is a RWC 2019 winner, but the intervening years have seen him ravaged by injuries. This is his first Bok start since 2019.

“We’ve been fast friends since he came to Munster a few years ago,” Kleyn, who joined Munster in 2016, said this week. 

“It’s been fantastic being on this journey with him because he’s obviously had a long road over the last few years. We were jokingly saying that we got our first cap together again because it’s almost been as long for him since he last played for the Springboks as it had been for me [since last playing for Ireland]. 

“He’s a great rugby player, the influence he’s had on Munster – even though he hasn’t played much until this year – has been immense for us in the matches that he did play.  

“The testament to that is the fact that he’s included in the Springbok squad again after only playing seven or eight matches, which shows the quality of player he is. 

“He’s the most headstrong guy I’ve ever met in my life. It’s incredible, the stuff he went through. He never had a down day, he never had a day when he felt sorry for himself…” 

South Africa’s Lood de Jager during the third Incoming Series Test match between South Africa and Wales on 16 July 2022 in Cape Town. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

Injury issues for Wales

Wales were hit by a third late withdrawal from their side when wing Alex Cuthbert dropped out as a precaution on Friday.

Cuthbert has a tight calf and will be replaced in the starting team by Tom Rogers. Louis Rees-Zammit comes onto the replacements bench. 

Flyhalf Dan Biggar (back) and fullback Liam Williams (hamstring) withdrew from the team on Thursday, though coach Warren Gatland was at pains to stress that both were as a precaution. 

Gatland will announce his 33-player squad for the World Cup in France on Monday. 

“They (Williams and Biggar) are not serious at all,” Gatland told reporters. “They could both play on Saturday, but the decision was made. There’s no point in us taking the risk at this stage.

“I see it as a positive. It’s dealing with things that are going to be thrown at you. We’ve got four 10s (in the squad). If this was a World Cup semifinal, Dan Biggar would have been fine. We’re just taking the precaution. There is no need for us to take a risk with him, and it gives Sam another opportunity. 

“I think we’re getting a bit closer (to knowing his final 33) but there’s an opportunity for players on Saturday,” he said. “We’ll head back here as a coaching group on Saturday and finalise the squad. 

“We’re confident that those carrying injuries will be available for the first game (of the World Cup) against Fiji.”

Gatland also confirmed that Taine Basham, who was poleaxed by the shoulder of England flyhalf Owen Farrell in the 19-17 defeat at Twickenham last Saturday, is also fine after head injury assessment protocols this week. He has been named on the bench.

“He’s had a full week with us from Monday, passed his HIA two and three. No problem at all. He felt fine after the game and when he was on the field.” DM


15 Cai Evans, 14 Tom Rogers, 13 Mason Grady, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Rio Dyer, 10 Sam Costelow, 9 Kieran Hardy, 8 Aaron Wainwright, 7 Jac Morgan (captain), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Will Rowlands, 4 Ben Carter, 3 Keiron Assiratti, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Corey Domachowski

Reserves: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Teddy Williams, 20 Taine Basham, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Max Llewellyn, 23 Louis Rees-Zammit 

South Africa

15 Willie le Roux, 14 Canan Moodie, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff

Reserves: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Duane Vermeulen, 22 Grant Williams, 23 Damian Willemse.

Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)

Kick-off: 4.15pm

Additional reporting by Reuters.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Bonzo Gibbon says:

    Andrew Brace is the ref who thought knocking Grant Williams out with a hip to the head, well after he had kicked the ball, was “just a rugby incident”.

    • Steve Davidson says:

      OMG I only just realised Brace was reffing. AND he’s one of the RWC refs as well. Shocking. Let’s hope he has maybe learnt a bit about how to ref since the kung-fu arsehole (both physical and metaphorical) attack on poor Williamson, but I doubt it. Let’s also hope the Boks don’t get him in the RWC. Ever.

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