A British and Irish Lions tour is one of the great highlights of the rugby world, so a nation tends to send its best when the tourists come to play.
The 2019 world champions have a great shot at winning this, though they will face fierce competition from the top players of Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland.
Barring injury or external factors and pending the release of players by the clubs to play for the national team, here is the likely Springboks starting XV.
1. Steven Kitshoff
Due to the presence of the Beast, Tendai Mtawarira, Kitshoff was often shunted aside for a spot in the starting XV. But with Mtawarira’s retirement as one of the most prolific scrummagers of all time, Kitshoff must be a firm second-choice loosehead.
He’s been storming in the Super Rugby season and cannot be denied a spot.
2. Malcom Marx
Though Rassie Erasmus dropped the 2018 world player of the year nominee to the bench, Malcom Marx had a pretty good tournament based on the time he had on the pitch, pinpointing the lineout throws, tackling with beastly power and each time taking the ball to the gain line with proficiency.
His performances in the Japanese Top League have been dominant and his return to South Africa would cement his place as a starter.
3. Frans Malherbe
A firm start of last year’s World Cup, he would be expected to return to the starting XV considering a decent performance as an incumbent last year.
4. Eben Etzebeth
Etzebeth is one of the best locks in the world. His attacking play builds on his sheer power and hunger for territorial gain. His ability to run hard gives defenders trouble. He’s one of the world’s best defenders and a prolific lineout competitor. His talents would add an edge to the forward play.
5. Lood de Jager
The 2015 South African rugby player of the year will face great competition from Franco Mostert for a starting spot. However, he put in a strong season last year, and providing that work rate is maintained, he should warrant a start.
6. Siya Kolisi
The first-ever black captain of the Springboks has proven to be one of the best blindsides the game has ever seen. His powerful tackling and dynamic defensive skill set keep back defenders with power and expertise. He’s physical but also no slouch, and his high speed for a forward allows him to be an all-round dynamic player in the team.
His 2019 season, if not already a touching story, is also a solid one. We can expect Kolisi to captain the Boks in 2021’s Lions tour.
7. Pieter-Steph du Toit
As I stated in my article on the Springboks’ attacking gameplay, Du Toit is a vital cog as a fast and skilful flanker. His dynamic skills and a flair at crucial times win the Boks territorial gain.
His ball skills, combined with hard and fast running, put him up as a lethal threat to any defence. His fitness allows him to chase kickoffs and bounce up from tackles faster than anyone else. His physicality and tackling make him a defender to be feared by opposition players.
8. Kwagga Smith
The switch from sevens to fifteen-a-side rugby has allowed Kwagga Smith to be part of Springboks’ biggest victory, and with the departure of both Duane Vermuelen and Francois Louw, a spot has opened up for him in the first XV.
He has so much to offer: speed and agility honed in the world of sevens rugby, excellent ball skills developed in sevens rugby, powerful running and robust frame. Combined, these make him a lethal and dynamic attacker. His defensive skills are also excellent.
Seeing Kwagga Smith at No. 8 for the Boks would allow the loose forward to reach new heights. Hopefully he will be able to return from Japan to play in the Lions series.
9. Faf de Klerk
The Giant Slayer will be an expected starter for the Springboks. His fearless and powerful tackling makes the halfback a pocket Hercules who can take down any forward in David-and-Goliath encounters. A strong passer and skilful attacker who is quick and deadly accurate off the rucks, he poses a volatile threat to defences. Also, a strong box-kicker, he can constantly pressure opposition players with contestable kicks. I would be looking forwards to watching him face off against Britain’s finest.
10. Handre Pollard
Despite several ‘banana peels’ in terms of kicking in spite of the lethal abilities of his boot, he remains an icon among the kicking aces. Time in Europe has enhanced the consistency of his already lethal kicking. Pollard is very cool under the high ball and does not fumble under defensive pressure, though he may have occasional slip-ups.
Pollard’s 98-kilogram frame is the heart of his defensive ability, allowing him to make dominant tackles on the opposition attackers. His tackling is solid as well. His passing is deadly flat and parallel to the gain line. He almost always gets the ball out wide to the talent of outside backs like Willie le Roux in the face of immense defensive pressure. His many gifts would light up the Lions series, especially as a playmaker.
11. Makazole Mapimpi
A winger with electrical pace, his ability to tear up the pitch with excellent speed is perfect for the Springboks with great playmakers to ensure that he would have space to burn with pace.
12. Damian de Allende
A world-class centre in the midfield and a hard runner who is not scared of collisions, his first-phase carries would be used to set up the first attacking platform from which Faf de Klerk, Handre Pollard and Wille le Roux can create tries from.
His monstrous tackling and heavy frame make him a tough defender to beat, and his dominance of the midfield ensures that oppositions have to work around him. From Japan to Munster, De Allende is still applicable for an international call-up.
13. Lukhanyo Am
A strong tackler and a talent firing on all cylinders, 2019 has allowed Am to showcase his skills with his lightning speed allowing him to intercept balls. I am looking forwards to watching him against the Lions.
14. Cheslin Kolbe
A versatile back three with many facets to his game. An excellent chip kick with lightning pace, his dazzling agility makes him the best-attacking wing on the planet. He’s a fearless tackler and a relentless defender who never shies away from combat. His small size by rugby standards is deceptive for he is one of rugby’s best attackers and defenders.
15. Willie le Roux
A current contract in Japan with Top League powerhouse Toyota Verblitz means he would have trouble being released from his club to play for the Boks. However, his current performances in Japan have shown that his ball skills have not gone to waste. His silky abilities and speed allow him to make intercepts.
Armed with lethal passing, he can play wide and flat. Meanwhile, his playmaking skills are crucial to any team, be it Toyota Verblitz, the Wasps or the Springboks. His high ball skills, if in full form, unlike most of last year, can allow him to use his ball skills to bring a new edge to the game.