South Africa braced on Monday for the prospect of participating in the first test against the British and Irish Lions without their inspiring leader Siya Kolisi, with the Springboks considering replacement options for the captain position.
After spending the last 10 days in isolation after testing positive for Covid-19, Kolisi was among six players allowed to join the rest of the squad in Cape Town on Monday, but was due to undergo heart and lung tests Monday night in the part of the return-to-play protocols. Even if Kolisi gets the green light to play on Saturday, it would be a bet to launch him directly against the Lions with South African coach Jacques Nienaber due to name his team on Wednesday.
Among the options if Kolisi does not lead the Springboks to Cape Town Stadium are opening half Handre Pollard, who was declared fit to play after also having to isolate himself, Lukhanyo Am, who captained a solid South African team A to victory over the Lions last Wednesday, and Eben Etzebeth. And Springboks assistant coach Mzwandile Stick is confident South Africa can cope if Kolisi does not take the pitch on Saturday.
“We’re in a good space,” Stick said. “We are almost 100% back to how we want things to be in a week of testing. [With Siya] we wouldn’t do anything stupid. We hope to have good news, but otherwise we have some great players in our squad. Even though Siya is not fit to play, we trust the other guys in this position. We have great leaders on our team. If Siya isn’t in good shape, we know we have players who can do the job. If it’s not allowed, we have a few guys who can do this job.
Pollard, meanwhile, brushed aside former Springboks coach Peter de Villiers’ comments that South Africa’s current style of play is “very boring”. The opener also believes South Africa knows what to expect from the Lions with Pollard doing his homework on Dan Biggar – the favorite to start against him on Saturday.
Responding to De Villiers’ annoying jibe, Pollard said: “For me it’s the most beautiful thing in the world. Apart from my wife. This is the way we were brought up and for me personally it is a thing of beauty. Throwing a ball is good for people who watch on TV but for me it is beautiful. I don’t think it’s a big secret of what’s to come. Both teams play pretty similar games and it will depend on the physicality, set pieces and bases.
Pollard has also sought to allay fears that the Springboks are undercooked, having had more than 20 positive cases of Covid-19 in the past three weeks and having played only one test since the Cup final of the world 2019. And in an admission that raises eyebrows given the epidemic in the camp, Pollard revealed that the families of the players had been allowed to join the bubble.
“Having our wives and partners here, the kids running around… a lot of people would see that as a distraction, but for us it’s great. It helps a lot in the life of the bubble, ”he said. It takes you a bit of the head of the game. Over the next three weeks we have to focus on the task at hand. You don’t care about staying sane. You don’t have to stay sane. You just have to stay focused on what we want to accomplish. There’s no way you’re not ready. Physically we are all fine.