CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Rugby World Cup-winning captain Siya Kolisi has recovered from COVID-19 and will lead South Africa in the first test against the British and Irish Lions on Saturday at Cape Town Stadium.
Kolisi was a huge doubt for the series opener having not played any part in the buildup after contracting the virus at the start of the month.
But he was back and will lead a matchday squad that includes 21 players who featured in the Springboks’ triumphant World Cup campaign in Japan in 2019.
“It was very important (to have him back as captain),” Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber said. “He’s been a player that we’ve been with for quite some time, he knows our structures, and is our captain. He brings that calmness to the squad so we’re very happy to have him back.”
Like Kolisi, winger Makazole Mapimpi and forward Ox Nché were also in the starting XV having been among the players who were doubtful after being infected. The trio was the last group of players to report for duty at the Springboks camp in Cape Town on Monday after completing mandatory self-isolation in Johannesburg.
More than a dozen players tested positive for COVID-19, but some sort of calm seems to have returned.
Vice captain Handre Pollard was at flyhalf where he will win his 50th cap, alongside the dynamic Faf de Klerk at scrumhalf.
The pair, together with the entire pack of forwards, as well as fullback Willie le Roux all started in South Africa’s warmup against Georgia which the Springboks won 40-9 on July 3. That was the only match they played since the World Cup final win over England in November 2019.
“The fact that most of the players participated in the Rugby World Cup means they know one another well on and off the field, and as coaches we know what they have to offer after having worked with most of them for several years,” Nienaber said.
South Africa: Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Kwagga Smith, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (captain), Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth, Trevor Nyakane, Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nche. Reserves: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Lood de Jager, Rynhardt Elstadt, Herschel Jantjies, Elton Jantjies, Damian Willemse.
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First published on: AP