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Rassie Erasmus has unveiled the South Africa team that will line up against the British and Irish Lions at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday for the first instalment of their three-Test series.
Arguably the most notable inclusion in the XV is captain Siya Kolisi, who was a fitness doubt after serving a 10-day isolation period due to Covid-19 protocols.
Kwagga Smith has beaten Jasper Wiese and Duane Vermeulen to the No. 8 spot, while Faf de Klerk starts at scrum-half following his controversial head tackle against the Lions while playing for South Africa ‘A’ last weekend.
Damian de Allende and Cheslin Kolbe start at centre and on the wing, respectively, after also featuring in that warm-up clash, while Willie le Roux also keeps his place at full-back.
Scrum-half De Klerk (kicking) was recently sin-binned playing against the Lions
(Image: Getty Images)
Montpellier fly-half Handre Pollard will start in the No. 10 jersey, while Elton Jantjies—who recently joined his compatriot in France in a short-term loan at Pau—provides cover from the bench.
Pollard will earn his 50th international cap in Cape Town while lock Eben Etzebeth—by a distance the most experienced international player in the squad—will win his 87th.
It will also be Pollard's first international appearance since he played a starring role for the Springboks in their 2019 Rugby World Cup final win over England.
Pollard is back in the South Africa XV for the first time since his starring role in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final
(Image: Getty Images)
He'll be joined by 10 team-mates in the XV who also started in that fixture almost two years ago.
South Africa will feel full of confidence after their 'A' team bested the Lions 17-13 on July 14, the tourists' sole defeat during their warm-up run.
Pollard and winger Makazole Mapimpi are the only two among the back line who didn't start for South Africa 'A' last weekend as head coach Jacques Nienaber looks to keep some consistency.
Nienaber sought to dispel any concerns that those players who only recently returned following Covid-19 quarantine would be off the pace.
“Some of the players didn’t have COVID-19 symptoms at all, they have been managed according their individual needs, and they have really impressed me with their intensity and enthusiasm at training,” he said.
“The well-being of our players is of paramount importance, so we have been working closely with the medical team to work out what would be the best course of action for each player over the three-Test Series.”
Warren Gatland will feel even more motivated to land a crucial blow in the opening Test clash following that loss, where Wyn Jones scored the guests' only try.
The Lions head coach is expected to name another Welshman, captain Alun Wyn Jones, in his side when the tourists name their team on Thursday.
South Africa XV to face Lions in first Test: (Forwards) Nche, Mbonambi, Nyakane, Etzebeth, Mostert, Kolisi, Du Toit, Smith; (Backs) De Klerk, Pollard, Mapimpi, De Allende, Am, Kolbe, Le Roux.