Accusations that South Africa are underdone for the first Test against the British and Irish Lions will only “throw more petrol on the fire” that is burning within the Springboks camp, according to hooker Bongi Mbonambi.
The hosts will be captained by Siya Kolisi in Saturday’s match in Cape Town. He is back after 10 days in isolation, having been one of 14 squad members to return a positive Covid-19 test.
The disrupted nature of the Boks’ training camp, combined with the team being out of Test action since their World Cup success in November 2019, is hardly ideal preparation for facing the Lions.
Despite that, Mbonambi, another player who has been forced to isolate, 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.
“We are at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to top-tier international game-time. It’s one of the realities of Covid, but we’ve been working hard on and off the field, analysing the Lions and doing as much as we can to be prepared.”
The Springboks certainly do not lack experience, with the starting XV holding over 500 caps to their name.
In all, the 23-man matchday squad selected by coach Jacques Nienaber includes 21 players who featured in the country’s triumphant World Cup campaign of 2019.
Wing Makazole Mapimpi and prop Ox Nche, who like Kolisi only returned to the camp on Monday after completing Covid isolation, are also in the starting line-up.
Nienaber has stuck with the same forward pack which began the 40-9 success over Georgia on July 2, with scrum-half Faf De Klerk, centres Damian De Allende and Lukhanyo Am and wings Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe the five men recalled.
Loosehead Nche will pack down alongside Mbonambi and tighthead Trevor Nyakane, ahead of locks Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert, with blindside Kolisi and openside Pieter-Steph du Toit either side of Kwagga Smith in the back row.
Sale number nine De Klerk resumes his half-back partnership with vice-captain Pollard, with full-back Willie Le Roux retaining his starting spot, while De Allende, Am, Mapimpi and Kolbe each returning.
Nienaber, who described Kolisi’s inclusion as “very important” for the team, is prepared to freshen up his side at any time in the match rather than wait for an hour to pass.
“The moment they don’t fulfil their role due to tiredness or due to Covid or not having been exposed to rugby for some time, that is when we will make a substitution,” he said.
“The players know they have a specific role to play and the moment we see a drop-off, we will see a substitution.”
Nienaber brought forward the announcement of his squad by a day, but insisted it was not an attempt at mind games, with the squad having been informed of his plans on Monday.
“Irrespective of whether we announced it on a Wednesday or a Tuesday, they knew the team already. It was probably easier to get it out of the way. There is no strategic thinking,” he said.