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South Africa sweating over fitness of captain Kolisi for first Lions Test

The Guardian
The Guardian
Siya Kolisi in action for South Africa against Georgia Photograph: Backpage Media/REX/Shutterstock

South Africa were braced on Monday for the prospect of going into the first Test against the British & Irish Lions without their inspirational leader Siya Kolisi, with the Springboks contemplating back-up options for the captaincy.

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Having spent the past 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 take heart and lung tests on Monday night as part of the return-to-play protocols. Even if Kolisi is given the green light to play on Saturday, it would be a gamble to throw him straight in against the Lions with the South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber due to name his team on Wednesday.

Among the options if Kolisi does not lead the Springboks out at Cape Town Stadium are the fly-half Handre Pollard, who has been passed fit to play having also had to isolate, Lukhanyo Am, who captained a strong South Africa A side to victory over the Lions last Wednesday, and Eben Etzebeth. And the Springboks assistant coach Mzwandile Stick is confident South Africa can cope if Kolisi does not take the field on Saturday.

“We are in a good space,” Stick said. “We are almost back to 100 per cent to how we want things to be done in a Test week. [With Siya] we wouldn’t do anything stupid. We’re hoping to get good news but if not we’ve got great players in our squad. Even if Siya is not fit to play, we trust the other guys in that position. We’ve got great leaders in our team. If Siya is not fit we know we’ve got players who can do that job. If he’s not cleared, we’ve got a couple of guys who can do that job.”

Pollard, meanwhile, brushed off comments made by the former Springboks coach Peter de Villiers that South Africa’s current style of play is “very boring”. The fly-half also believes South Africa know what to expect from the Lions with Pollard doing his homework on Dan Biggar – the favourite to start against him on Saturday.

In response to De Villiers’ boring jibe, Pollard said: “For me, it’s the most beautiful thing in the world. Apart from my wife. It’s the way we were brought up and for me personally it’s a thing of beauty. Throwing a ball around is nice for the people watching on TV but for me it’s beautiful. I don’t think it’s a big secret of what’s coming. Two sides play pretty similar games and it’s going to come down to physicality, set piece and the basics.”

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Pollard also sought to allay fears the Springboks will be undercooked, having had more than 20 positive Covid-19 cases over the last three weeks and having played just one Test since the 2019 World Cup final. And in an eyebrow-raising admission given the outbreak in the camp, Pollard revealed the players’ families have been permitted to join the bubble.

“Having our wives and partners here, the kids running around … lots of people would see it as a distraction but for us it’s great. It helps a lot with the bubble life,” he said. It takes your head off the game a bit. For 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’ve just got to stay focused on what we want to achieve. There’s no way you’re not going to be ready. Physically we are all fine.”

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