Rugby-Boks likely to stick with World Cup winners for Lions series

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CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber has hinted the Springboks will look for continuity, of sorts, when they name their squad to face the British and Irish Lions next Saturday.

The Boks have not played a test since they lifted the Rugby World Cup in Japan in November 2019, missing out on the entire 2020 season because of South Africa’s hard lockdown restrictions due to COVID-19.

But any notion that there may be a shake-up of personnel in the close to 18 months since the final in Yokohama was dispelled by Nienaber ahead of the announcement on June 5 of a squad of 45 players for the Lions series.

"Of the World Cup squad, bar the three that retired (prop Tendai Mtawarira, hooker Schalk Brits and loose-forward Francois Louw), all 30 of the other guys are still in the running. There will be a few touch-and-go players, but the others have a clean bill of health," Nienaber said.

Expanding on those in a race for fitness, Nienaber said they will also consider the fact that they have 14 tests to play this season.

"(Locks) Lood de Jager and RG Snyman, and (fullback) Warrick Gelant are touch-and-go in terms of finishing their rehab. They might miss out on the start of the Lions series, not because they aren’t medically fit, but it might be confidence or their mindset.

"But we still have the Rugby Championship and the end of season tour (to Europe) and you have to look at it as a whole season you are working towards."

Nienaber added that they would select what they saw as their strongest team for the Lions.

"Our strategic objectives are always to win, first and foremost, the second is to transform and the third is to broaden our squad depth. We want to transform the team because we believe diversity is good for us. As we saw at the World Cup, we feed off that," he said.

The first test against the Lions will be played in Cape Town on July 24, with the following two both in Johannesburg a week apart.

(Reporting by Nick Said, editing by Ed Osmond)