CAPE TOWN – Now that Springbok bosses Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus have spoken, the Test season is something tangible.
The world champions are almost back in action, and Saturday will see Nienaber announce his first 45-man squad for the two-Test series against Georgia in early July, and for the three Tests against the British & Irish Lions.
There are a number of Bok contenders in the Bulls team that will take on the Stormers at Loftus Versfeld on Friday (7pm kick-off), and many of them will be in the squad.
But Nienaber and Erasmus said it would be a joint squad that will also cover the South Africa A fixture against the Lions at Cape Town Stadium on July 14.
After that, the squad will be whittled down to 35 or 37, who will remain in a bio-bubble for the Lions Tests. And while it is one thing about being part of a big 45-man group, it is another to actually get game time and earn Test caps.
So Friday’s Rainbow Cup SA showdown with the Stormers will not only provide Jake White’s team with an opportunity to hit back after going down to the Johannesburg Lions in their last game, but for individuals to impress Nienaber.
The fact that it will be announced on Saturday makes the Friday night encounter the ideal stage to perform.
Topping that list has to be props Lizo Gqoboka and Trevor Nyakane, who sustained a bit of bruising to their ego against the Lions, where
Sti Sithole and Carlu Sadie won the scrum battle.
The Bulls duo have been in good form since rugby resumed late last year, but now is the time to shine ahead of the international season. Their examination won’t come tougher than Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe, who will front the Stormers’ scrum alongside fellow Bok stalwart Bongi Mbonambi.
The Cape side’s front row are the favourites to face Georgia and the Lions, but who will lead the “Bomb Squad” on to the pitch in the second half?
Gqoboka and Nyakane must prove once more that they can fulfil that role ahead of Sithole, Sadie, Sharks duo Ox Nche and Thomas du Toit, and a number of overseas-based props.
The expected return of Marcell Coetzee from a long-term injury this week is a welcome boost for the Bulls and for the man himself.
Coetzee was part of the Bok alignment camp in Joburg last week, and would have played much more than just his 30 Tests up to now if injury had not interrupted his progress over the years.
But it will be interesting to see where he plays against the Stormers, as Marco van Staden also has
Bok ambitions and is the in-form openside flank.
Van Staden will want to prove a point as well to the national selectors, along with young blindsider Elrigh Louw.
Veteran flyhalf Morne Steyn is in the Bok mix too, and he would want to further his cause for a remarkable recall with another accomplished display against the Stormers.
And let’s not forget that there is a Rainbow Cup final spot in Italy on June 19 to play for as well …