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Springbok players training. Picture: LEFTY SHIVAMBU
Springbok players training. Picture: LEFTY SHIVAMBU

Though he was named in the Springbok starting team to play the Wallabies in the Rugby Championship opener on Saturday, Ox Nché faces a nervy wait to see if he will run out at Loftus Versfeld. 

The loosehead prop injured a pectoral muscle in training. The severity of the injury is yet to be determined. SA Rugby director of rugby Rassie Erasmus suspects the injury may be severe enough to keep him out of Saturday’s game.

“I have a gut feel it is serious because he is not the type of guy that doesn’t finish a training session. Ox pushed hard in practice. I hope it is not too serious. He takes ownership, he has shown leadership. He is comfortable in his own skin. It is not just about scrumming for him. It will be a huge blow [if he doesn’t play].”

As a precaution, Steven Kitshoff, who is supposed to leave in about the next day for New Zealand with the rest of the squad, will remain behind for now.

The Bok team to play the Wallabies shows just one new cap. Having recently been cleared to switch international allegiance, lock Jean Kleyn has earned himself a starting place for Saturday’s clash.

Kleyn, who earned five caps for Ireland, will start in the second row next to Marvin Orie as the Springboks split their resources for their first two matches in the competition.

The Boks are due to send an advance party to Auckland where they will prepare for the Test against the All Blacks on Saturday a week. That group will include regular captain Siya Kolisi, who will be out injured until after the competition, as well as Eben Etzebeth who will be considered for selection against the All Blacks. “Eben will definitely be in the mix next week,” said Erasmus.

That will be a source of huge comfort for the Boks but their immediate attention is on Saturday’s clash against the Wallabies.

Impact player

For that task the captaincy armband will be handed to Duane Vermeulen who captained the team twice in 2019, against New Zealand and a fortnight later, Argentina.

Vermeulen, who has been earmarked as a potential impact player off the bench in the Rugby World Cup, still has prospects in the run-on XV.

“Duane can definitely play both roles,” coach Jacques Nienaber said. “It was not a difficult decision to decide on a captain.

We had a few options as potential captains and we have two good leaders in Duane and Lukhanyo [Am], who has been named vice-captain for this match. They are both quality leaders and they’ll have a lot of experience around them on the field, which is fantastic for us as coaches,” said Nienaber.

Erasmus explained the Boks prefer to have a captain who operates closer to the referee. “We prefer to have someone close to the referee. A loose forward or a scrumhalf is better for that. It is also about the respect we want to show the ref. That is something we want to rectify this year. Not just to communicate to him but to listen,” explained Erasmus.

Saturday’s starting team will feature flank Marco van Staden and flyhalf Manie Libbok for the first time. They have both represented the Boks off the bench.

The team also features Canan Moodie who made a spectacular Test debut last year against the Wallabies in Sydney. His provincial teammate Kurt-Lee Arendse who sparkled in the Boks last Test against England is on the other wing.

The Boks have gone for a six-two split on the bench with the versatile Grant Williams and Damian Willemse the designated backs.

Springbok squad: Willie le Roux; Canan Moodie, Lukhanyo Am, Andre Esterhuizen, Kurt-Lee Arendse; Manie Libbok, Cobus Reinach; Duane Vermeulen (capt), Pieter-Steph du Toit, Marco van Staden; Marvin Orie, Jean Kleyn, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nché. Replacements: Joseph Dweba, Thomas du Toit, Vincent Koch, RG Snyman, Evan Roos, Deon Fourie; Grant Williams, Damian Willemse

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