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'Bloody worried' - so-called Springboks' strength now labelled a major concern

By Ian Cameron

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Prior to the British & Irish Lions series, the Springboks’ scrum had been billed as a major strength of the hosts and one where the touring Lions could potentially come undone.

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Much of the confidence stemmed from their performance against England in the Rugby World Cup final in 2019, where a Matt Proudfoot-coached Boks pack did a number on England at scrum time. A year and a half on and the South Africans continued to beat the same drum, some insisting that the strength and depth of their front row was unmatched internationally.

‘The Boks are going to annihilate this Lions front row’ said AP Cronje, a particularly vocal South African journalist on Twitter. “Kitshoff, Mbonambi and Malherbe will more than sweat the Lions. Nche, Marx and Nyakane off the bench will clean up what’s left. No international side, or Lions side, can match SA’s depth in the front row. None come close.”

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Yet days out from the first Test and the tables appear to have turned – or at least the sentiment among South African pundits and fans. A stern Test against renowned scrummagers Georgia softened the cough of supporters and another lacklustre performance by tighthead Trevor Nyakane two weeks later against the Lions have added to those fears.

“I’m actually bloody worried about the Bok scrum,” scrum guru and former Southern Kings head coach Robbie Kempson noted in the Sunday Times of South Africa at the weekend. “We only have Frans Malherbe.”

Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber was forced to go to batt for Nyakane, after naming him at three for the first Test against the Lions on Saturday, with Malherbe named on the bench, much to the surprise of many fans.

“I am very comfortable with Trevor at tighthead. He has got a specific role that he has to fulfil and he knows what that is. We see our front row forwards as a unit.

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“There is a specific role that we want Ox to achieve for us and it is the same with Trevor and then we will bring on Kitsie and Frans Malherbe in the second half,” Nienaber added.

Yet many on social media remain unconvinced. “I really think the noise around Trevor Nyakane is warranted, however we need to give him his opportunity. I’m sure he is well aware of the consequences should he not make the necessary step-up on Saturday – his place in that starting and replacement jumper is on the line…”

“Wyn Jones must be keen to face Nyakane again. Good chance for Nyakane to prove he’s still got it.”

“I share Kempson’s concerns… Malherbe has had no game time; Nyakane hasn’t been at the level he was in 2019; Koch + Oosthuizen looked shaky. I’m utterly perplexed why the best scrummaging tighthead in the Premiership – Wilco Louw – wasn’t in the squad,” wrote Cronje, who appears to have come full circle in his take on the Bok front row.

Even if the idea is to launch Steven Kitshoff and Malherbe from the bench, South African fans will be left sweating their set-piece until Saturday evening, when their fears will either materialise or be banished against the Lions.

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'Bloody worried' - so-called Springboks' strength now labelled a major concern

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