SARugbymag.co.za highlights some of the mouthwatering duels to look forward to in the first Test between the Springboks and British & Irish Lions in Cape Town on Saturday.
Cheslin Kolbe vs Duhan van der Merwe
Saturday’s match will pit two wings of contrasting sizes and styles against each other.
Van der Merwe was somewhat surprisingly named ahead of Josh Adams to start on the left wing for the Lions.
The South African-born Scotland wing has been in excellent form during the tour, scoring four tries in the two games against the Sharks, including a hat-trick in the first.
However, the 26-year-old Van der Merwe will have the defensive side of his game tested on Saturday when he comes up against Springbok wing Kolbe in a fascinating ‘David against Goliath’ clash.
While the 1,9m, 105kg Van der Merwe can bash his way through defences like a wrecking ball, Kolbe is one of the best in the world when it comes to evading tackles through his quick feet and sidestepping ability.
Kolbe has also shown that he can handle larger players. In just his second Test match in 2018, he managed to contain the All Blacks’ Rieko Ioane, fronting up bravely in the tackle as the Boks claimed a historic win in New Zealand.
Ox Nche and Trevor Nyakane vs Tadhg Furlong and Wyn Jones
In another surprise selection call for Saturday’s first Test, the Springboks opted for Ox Nche and Trevor Nyakane ahead of Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe, who will both be on the bench.
All expectations were that Steven Kitshoff would step into the No 1 jersey vacated by the retired Beast Mtawarira, while Frans Malherbe has emerged as the first-choice tighthead prop in the Erasmus-Nienaber era.
However, the selection does point to the fact the Springboks are looking for a specific impact from their starting players, especially as they will be up against a mobile and athletic Lions pack.
Neither the Springboks nor Lions scrum has exactly fired on all cylinders in the buildup to this match and there will be plenty on the line in ensuring that the respective backlines get a solid base to build from.
Nche and Nyakane will offer the Springboks a huge amount of work from breakdown to breakdown. It’s whether they can shore themselves up at the scrum that will be key to giving the hosts a good start.
Franco Mostert vs Maro Itoje
Of course, a key area in the first Test will be the lineout and driving maul. This was one the Springboks’ main weapons on route to the World Cup final in 2019.
With Lood de Jager returning from injury from the bench, the in-form Mostert is set to run the Bok lineout on Saturday, but will certainly have his hands full against Itoje.
The English lock is one of the best in the world when it comes to competing at the lineout and shutting down mauls, and has been tasked with deciphering the Bok lineout calls.
Whichever of these two locks comes out on top will go a long way in deciding the outcome of the first Test.
Kwagga Smith vs Tom Curry
The Springboks have backed Smith to fill the void vacated by the currently recovering Duane Vermeulen, above the likes of more traditional bulldozers Dan du Preez and Jasper Wiese.
The former sevens player is never going to offer the sort of physical presence that Vermeulen possesses, but his work rate, mobility, as well as ability to use his speed and step to wrongfoot defenders are what will make him a weapon in this series.
However, Smith will have his work cut out in limiting Curry’s impact in this match. It’s no secret that the Lions pack is designed to get the best out of the English flank, freeing him up to do what he does best and cause mayhem on the field.
Together with Mostert, Smith is one of the Bok players who record the most frequent attacking-breakdown arrivals. This is going to be vital in limiting Curry’s ability to jackal the ball, while it will also aid the Boks to keep their attacking momentum.
Lukhanyo Am vs Elliot Daly
Am will resume his World Cup-winning centre partnership with Damian de Allende, while the Lions have opted for a fresh pairing of Robbie Henshaw and Daly.
Captaining the South Africa A team to a win over the Lions last week, Am was one of the standout players, scoring the decisive try and enjoying an outstanding outing on defence.
By contrast, Daly’s selection to the Lions squad surprised many, not only because he had been playing in the English second division, but also due to his struggling form for England in the Six Nations.
While Daly has mostly been utlised among England’s outside backs, Lions coach Warren Gatland has backed him at outside centre against the Boks. The 28-year-old wasn’t at his best against the Sharks, but has the skill and creativity to be at the heart of the Lions’ attack, plus he has a massive boot that will undoubtedly come in handy at sea level.
Whether or not Am can keep Daly quiet, limiting the Lions attacking options, will be decisive on Saturday.
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