The Springboks could be without influential captain Siya Kolisi in the open test match against the British and Irish Lions on Saturday.
Kolisi is one of several players who have been stuck in self-isolation in Johannesburg for the past 10 days after returning positive PCR tests following the win over Georgia two weeks ago.
Kolisi, Ox Nché and Makazole Mapimpi joined the squad in Cape Town following their mandatory COVID-19 self-isolation. However, they will have to undergo medical screening before being cleared to begin their return to play protocols.
Kolisi is among the players who are in doubt for Saturday’s first of three Tests. Assistant coach Mzwandile Stick confirmed that Kolisi, Nche and Mapimpi will be seeing a specialist and a final call on their availability against the Lions will be made on Monday evening.
"We trust the process and protocols in place. We want to stick by the plans. I am hoping for them to get great news but, if not, we have got great players in our squad." Stick said.
If Kolisi is unable to feature against the Lions, the likes of Rynhardt Elstadt, Marco van Staden and Jasper Wiese could start in the back row.
"Even if Siya is not fit to play, we trust all the other guys who can play in that position. You look at a guy like Rynhardt Elstadt, Marco van Staden, Jasper Wiese, any of those guys could be selected. We trust them and believe in them that they have what it takes to do the job for us." Stick added.
van Staden had stand out games against the Lions and Bulls. He was the joint top tackler for South Africa with 17 tackles against the tourist. He also managed a turnover against the Lions.
With Duane Vermeulen set to miss the opening test against the Lions, centre Lukhanyo Am is set to take over as the captain of the Springboks if Kolisi is also ruled out.
Kwagga Smith is likely to start in the back row for the opening test whether he packs down in the no.8 jersey or on the openside. The one certainty in the loose trio is 2019 World Rugby Player of the Year, Pieter-Steph du Toit who will start on the blindside.
If Toulouse's Elstadt starts for the Springboks, Smith is likely to pack down in the no.8 jersey with the Boks effectively starting with two blindside flankers. This may well be the route Jacques Nienaber goes down with both Elstadt and Smith being part of the Bok set up in 2019 - although Elstadt did not crack the nod for the World Cup squad. Smith's work over the ball certainly gives him the edge, particularly with Bongi Mbonambi set to start at hooker. Malcolm Marx is renowned for his work over the ball and with Wiese potentially coming of the bench with Marx, the threat over the ball can be maintained if Smith and Mbonambi are withdrawn.
Smith could well start at openside if with Pieter-Steph du Toit and Jasper Wiese completing the loose trio. Wiese's inexperience counts against him but this back row is a real possibility.
Finally, Marco van Staden may well have impressed enough in his two outings in the Green and Gold jersey to force his way into the back row. The Bulls' flanker was not involved in the alignment camps leading up to the tests against Georgia and the Lions but cracked the selection nod for the Series when the Springbok squad was named. Van Staden is an expert over the ball and his inclusion in the back row could see the Boks field two 'fetchers' in the loose trio along with Smith at no.8. While unlikely, Wiese could well replace Smith at no.8 leaving Pieter-Steph du Toit as the only 2019 Rugby World Cup squad member retained in the back row.
The back row would not have been much of a headache for Nienaber had he had the likes of Kolisi and Vermeulen at his disposal, however, he now faces the some selection dilemma as Warren Gatland who said after the game against the Stormers that
“There are going to be some tight calls with regard to the back three and the make-up of the loose forwards and how that mix is going to look as well".
Both sides have quality options in the back row and regardless of who makes the final cut for either side, expect a titanic clash.