South Africa alert to the creative threat posed by Lions under the attacking guidance of Gregor Townsend
Nienaber has named a strong team to take on the tourists on Saturday, selecting 11 players in his XV who started the World Cup final win over England in 2019.
The headline news is that captain Siya Kolisi returns after being passed fit to lead his country in Cape Town. The flanker was one of 14 Springboks to test positive for coronavirus, forcing him to self-isolate in Johannesburg for 10 days.
Wing Makazole Mapimpi and prop Ox Nche have been picked to start, having also been laid low by Covid.
Fly-half Handre Pollard, another of the Springboks who tested positive, will win his 50th cap.
All four missed South Africa A’s 17-13 win over the Lions last week but nine of that side will start the first Test. The other two changes see hooker Bongo Mbonambi come in for Joseph Dweba and No 8 Kwagga Smith replace Jasper Wiese.
The starting XV holds over 500 caps between them and the 23-man matchday squad includes 21 players who featured in the 2019 World Cup campaign.
Nevertheless, the coach was keen to talk up the strengths of the Lions, highlighting the depth of their player pool and Townsend’s range of attacking gambits.
“If you look at their squad they are the best of the best of four top nations in the world, so obviously the skill set they possess is multiple,” said Nienaber.
“If the fly-half of Wales struggles, let’s say, they just take the fly-half of England, and if he struggles they just take the No 1 fly-half of Scotland. That is the big challenge of a British and Irish Lions tour.
“Gregor is a very creative, out-the-box attacking coach, so yes, they have got multiple options; inside, outside, out the back, or they can go over you with an attacking kicking game and they can go around you with a multiple passing game. And they can go through you if they decide to go with a big, strong, more direct centre pairing.”
Nienaber also namechecked Scotland wing Duhan van der Merwe as another potential dangerman for the Boks. The former Edinburgh man has scored five tries for the Lions and picked up two man-of-the-match awards.
“If you look at Duhan, they can bring him inside or outside a creative 10,” said Nienaber. “He’s a big boy who carries a lot and can penetrate, so yeah, they’ve got multiple options.”
The South Africa coach said the return of Kolisi was “very important”. “He knows our structures and what we are trying to do from an on-field perspective, and he’s been captain, so it is always nice to have someone bring that calmness.”
The disrupted nature of the Boks’ training camp, combined with the team’s lack of Test action, is hardly ideal preparation for facing the Lions. Despite that, hooker Mbonambi said South Africa were ready to prove people wrong.
“The people out there saying we’re underdone, all it will do is throw more petrol on the fire that is burning,” he said.
“We’ll see what happens on Saturday. The whole team is looking forward to it.”
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.