Cape Town – The Springbok player almost certainly charged with directly policing Wales’s backline battering ram George North will still be the left wing Makazole Mapimpi, remember.
But the forced addition, revealed on Thursday, of S’bu Nkosi to the Boks’ starting line-up for Sunday’s World Cup semi-final against the red-jerseyed foes at Yokohama (11:00 SA time) does help shore up the back three as a physical collective against sturdy positional rivals.
It is a blow of note, of course, that the in-form, constantly dangerous and ultra-committed Cheslin Kolbe cannot take his place at No 14 in what would otherwise have been an unchanged match-day 23 from the last-eight disposal of Japan.
Kolbe was roaring toward contention for player of the tournament, before the ankle injury that has plagued him since the closing stages of the Canada match at the end of pool play flared up in the quarter-final and has now side-lined the gutsy little dynamo – quite possibly leaving him in significant doubt, too, for either the showpiece or bronze playoff.
Still, in what is likely to be a notably “tactical” and often caution-laden clash with the Welsh, the one plus for the Boks is that Nkosi beefs both the right-wing berth and back three generally now both in height (1.81m to Kolbe’s 1.71) and weight (97kg to around 80).
While Kolbe often defies the odds spectacularly in aerial tussles with opponents greatly bigger than he is – including brawny forwards – Nkosi has an ever-increasing relish for that department of play, too, while he is suitably built to exploit those touch-and-go situations near the corner-flag where brute force can be vital in dotting the ball in the face of desperate, often truly punishing defence on the chalk.
South Africa are also not surrendering anything in statistical strike potential in the try column from the No 14 berth, either: the Sharks man has notched eight tries in 10 international appearances since his (two-try) debut against England at Ellis Park in June 2018, compared to Kolbe’s seven from 13 caps.
They will miss Kolbe’s unique ability to wriggle free from the seemingly tightest, most claustrophobic of situations and often set up unexpected attacks in a jiffy, but Nkosi offers different strengths that can be exploited in equal measure at times -- at very least, too, the 23-year-old from Barberton must be extremely comfortable by now with the broad, current Bok systems both on attack and defence.
While the Welsh team had not yet been released at the time of writing, Nkosi seemed geared to face up to Josh Adams (he wore their left wing jersey in the narrow quarter-final triumph over France) in his personal head-to-head tussle in Yokohama.
It will be a pretty even tale of the tape if so: Adams, who sports nine tries from his 19 Tests, tips the scales at a slightly lower 95kg, but is fractionally taller than Nkosi at 1.86m.
A back three of Willie le Roux, Mapimpi and Kolbe would have made a more pronounced sacrifice physically to their Welsh counterparts – no doubt including the behemoth, 112kg North – on Sunday, but that will be less noticeable through Nkosi’s presence.
One area where he will be less instinctively able to assist than the versatile Kolbe, of course, is as an extra fullback in live play situations where Le Roux (not exactly in his sprightliest form ahead of this major tussle) may not be “at home” for varying reasons.
Interestingly, if Nkosi were to have a cracking outing against Wales and the Boks get through to the final, a suitable recovery by Kolbe would raise the burning question anew of whether he could be considered for the last line of defence if Le Roux proves too glaringly inconsistent all over again in Yokohama.
One thing seems pretty sure: the unpredictable No 15 incumbent could hardly fare any worse on Sunday in the first half than he did in the equivalent opening 40 minutes against the Brave Blossoms.
Le Roux, to his credit, showed his experience by recovering composure sufficiently after the break in the Tokyo match … including with a crucial role in a beautiful Bok raid from deep, first sparked by Handre Pollard’s break, for Mapimpi’s second try.
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