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What the Springboks really think of Gatland's 'hobbit-like' Lions picks and when they will finally announce their own tour squad

By Liam Heagney

Trending on RugbyPass

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Springboks bosses Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber have finally reacted to the calibre of the Lions forwards that Warren Gatland will pit against them in July’s three-Test, eight-game tour to South Africa – while also outlining their own selections plans ahead of the upcoming series.  

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It was May 6 when Gatland showed his hand for the tour but the South Africans have kept their powder dry until now, director of rugby Erasmus and head coach Nienaber fronting media on Friday, 22 days after the Lions’ big reveal. 

South African fans will have to wait another eight days – until June 5 – to learn who has made their 45-man squad which will cover the three-game Test series against the Lions as well as the two warm-up fixtures versus Georgia and the South Africa A team meeting against Gatland’s tourists.     

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With Erasmus requesting not to be asked to speculate on who might be included in his selection, the Springboks duo were instead quizzed on what they made of a Lions selection where the inclusions of back-rowers Sam Simmonds and Hamish Watson resulted in them being compared to hobbits by some of the South African media. 

It was written that “Gatland has picked hobbits to be giant slayers, and he has far too many Neville Nobodies in his squad of 37″, a barb that had seemingly escaped the attention of Erasmus. “I hope it is not our close media that came up with that,” he quipped. “Look, Jacques and I had a chat about this, we studied the Lions squad and it has fast loose forwards and it is explosive. 

“I’m not sure if Courtney Lawes will back up flank/lock, but I know Tadhg Beirne. I signed him for Munster from the Scarlets, I know what he can do. Then if you look at the other loose forwards, the whole pack the props are mobile and fast. It’s interesting the way he [Gatland] selected that squad. It’s almost a team that can play at the high veldt in winter at altitude. Those boys can move and him [Simmonds] specifically. He has made his mark, not from nowhere but he just stamped his authority and the way he was playing for his club [Exeter] he was tough to ignore. I don’t know the selection policy but it looks like a really good pack to me.”

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Nienaber added: “If you look at Sam, it is well documented in terms of he is just improving his try-scoring record currently in the Premiership. I guess Warren went with guys who are on form because of both of them [Simmonds and Watson]. And the hobbit one, I don’t know where that came from.”

Regarding their approach to the Springboks squad selection, Erasmus explained at the start of the media briefing: “I don’t want to be specifically asked about our team selection, we announce our squad next Saturday (June 5) and that will be a squad 45 players that will include the SA A team and the Springboks squad that will be playing against the Lions.

“After that SA A game, we will make the squad more or less the same size as the British and Irish Lions squad. You guys can shoot any questions and we will answer those but if we can stay away from team selection we will really appreciate that.”

The Springboks added that covid protocols would result in the locally-based players in their squad not being to play for the franchises in the warm-up matches versus the Lions. “With the tour agreement there is a Covid schedule and that is very specific, those guys have to be in a bubble for ten days to play against the Lions… there won’t be a franchise with nine, ten players out, it will be four, five, something like that.”

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What the Springboks really think of Gatland's 'hobbit-like' Lions picks and when they will finally announce their own tour squad

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