Nienaber defuses 'Bomb Squad' as Boks reunite after 20 months against Georgia

Liam Del Carme Sports reporter
Bongi Mbonambi during a training session at a Springboks camp in Bloemfontein on June 25 2021.
Bongi Mbonambi during a training session at a Springboks camp in Bloemfontein on June 25 2021.
Image: @Springboks/Twitter

Back together after almost 20 months the Springboks coach on Tuesday unveiled a squad that features three debutants for Friday’s Test against Georgia at Loftus.

Coach Jacques Nienaber named wingers Rosko Specman and Aphelele Fassi‚ as well as loose forward Jasper Wiese on the bench for the first of two clashes against the 12th-ranked team in the world.

There is a return for Ox Nche who was dropped after making his Test debut in 2018‚ a rare start for Kwagga Smith‚ while the Boks have‚ for the moment perhaps‚ defused their infamous "Bomb Squad"‚ that is based on a forward-heavy representation on the bench.

Nienaber who has had to wait an inordinate amount of time before taking charge in his first Test‚ admitted feeling the moment might pass him by.

“[It feels] awesome! It feels so long ago. I thought it was never gonna happen. I’m super excited. So is the squad‚” said the coach.

The fleet-footed Specman cracked the nod on the back of some sparkling performances on the domestic scene.

His ability to beat his direct marker combined with bewildering acceleration has made him a player of persistent prominence.

The equally elusive Fassi has mostly operated at fullback for the Sharks but owes his call-up on the wing to some of the positive Covid-19 tests and related close contact tracing in the Bok camp.

Nienaber explained what helped get the debutants the nod.

“The wings trained well in the conditioning camps. They bring X factor and spice to the game.

"It is important to have Willie Le Roux‚ Handre Pollard and Jesse Kriel‚ who is very vocal‚” he added about the players who are tasked with showing the rookies the ropes.

“We followed Jasper closely at Leicester. He really knocked door down in terms of performance‚” said the coach about the tireless toiler Wiese.

The starting team features the fit-again flyhalf Pollard plus his Montpellier half-back partner Cobus Reinach.

Reinach‚ who was the third scrumhalf in the Springbok Rugby World Cup squad in Japan behind Faf de Klerk and Herschel Jantjies‚ scored a hat trick of tries against Canada in his last Test for the Boks.

The coach explained some of the players who have been carrying long-term injuries are close to being considered again‚ while some players based in Europe were overlooked simply because of their lack of time in camp.

“We all know some are still carrying injuries. Some guys came in later.

"They played Premiership semifinals‚ while the two Toulouse boys (Cheslin Kolbe and Rynhardt Elstadt) played in their final.

"We spent a lot of time with the guys who were selected.”

He said lock Lood de Jager was on the cusp of making a return‚ while fellow second-rower RG Snyman was working his way back to fitness after suffering burn wounds.

“We said we would select the best available team for the outcome we want. This is that team‚” said Nienaber about the selections for Friday.

“That will help us make informed decisions for the first Test against the Lions.

"We go with guys who we have coached for a long time and have been in the system‚ but we also have to give Aphelele and Rosko a chance to see how they fit in.

"You have to strike a balance‚” said Nienaber.

Springbok team to play Georgia:

Willie le Roux; Rosko Specman‚ Jesse Kriel‚ Frans Steyn‚ Aphelele Fassi; Handre Pollard‚ Cobus Reinach; Kwagga Smith‚ Pieter-Steph du Toit‚ Siya Kolisi (captain); Franco Mostert‚ Eben Etzebeth; Trevor Nyakane‚ Bongi Mbonambi‚ Ox Nche. Substitutes: Malcolm Marx‚ Steven Kitshoff‚ Frans Malherbe‚ Marvin Orie‚ Jasper Wiese; Herschel Jantjies‚ Elton Jantjies‚ Damian Willemse.