Siya Kolisi will make a long-awaited return to the Springbok team when he runs out of the Loftus tunnel against Argentina on Saturday.
However, the versatile 27-year-old flanker won’t be doing so as skipper.
Instead, national coach Rassie Erasmus had decided to install veteran hooker Schalk Brits as designated on-field leader.
Not that it means Kolisi won’t be back in the thick of things at next month’s World Cup in Japan.
“Siya will definitely be the regular captain at the tournament,” Erasmus said on Wednesday.
Here are the three official reasons why that arrangement isn’t immediate.
First and foremost, Kolisi needs match fitness
Despite his undeniable leadership qualities, Kolisi remains one of South Africa’s best loose forwards.
He was one of the Boks’ most consistent performers in Allister Coetzee’s turbulent tenure, particularly in 2017 and reserved some of his best showings last season for the biggest opposition.
Kolisi’s magnificent showing against the All Blacks at Loftus was a prominent example.
“We’re phasing Siya back into the mix,” said Erasmus.
“He’s definitely not going to be playing 80 minutes after just playing over 40 in the past 12 weeks. As everyone knows, we’re desperate to take him to the World Cup firstly and then also have him in-form. I want him to concentrate on his game, to get it up to scratch. We might even take him off before half-time if we get out the game what we set out.
“It just won’t make sense to have him as captain then.”
It allows the Boks to further strengthen their leadership group
Experience and leadership win teams showpiece tournament and Erasmus is acutely aware of that.
More importantly, it’s important to differentiate between being a captain and being a senior player.
Senior players contribute subtly to the cause, be it with quick bits of advice or simply taking ownership of a specific area – like the scrums, for example.
Yet a captain still remains the main figure on the field – he rallies the troops, makes the main on-field decisions and communicates with the referee.
“The benefit of Siya’s absence – if one can remotely label it that way – is that it’s allowed us to grow others,” said Erasmus.
“I certainly learned a lot about other players in certain leadership positions. And let’s be honest, there will be a so-called midweek team at the World Cup. The first-choice players will play against the All Blacks, but in the middle of the tournament you’ll rotate guys. Then you’ll need other captains and this gives us the opportunity to experiment.
“Schalk is experienced.”
It allows a guy like Kwagga Smith to potentially cement his Cup spot
Erasmus naturally mentions that the competition among his flankers is quite intense.
It’s illustrated by the fact that class acts like Marcell Coetzee, Marco van Staden and Rynhardt Elstadt might be on standby for Japan at best.
That said, the man who stands to gain the biggest of Kolisi’s limited game-time at the weekend is the nippy Kwagga Smith.
The Lions star has been a busy presence the last two matches, yet still needs to convince some doubters that he can fit into the Boks’ more power-based pattern.
“We have some lekker loosies,” said Erasmus.
“Kwagga doesn’t stand back for anyone. Don’t look at his weight (which is just over 80kg), but rather his output. He does exactly the same as the rest of the guys in that regard. He could’ve been one of the guys we rested, but with Siya likely to come off early, he provides us with insurance. Now, he has another opportunity to perform.”