Nienaber continues to show single-minded clarity with five changes for All Blacks backlash
The Springboks will unleash No 8 Duane Vermeulen on the All Blacks for the Freedom Cup decider at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber continued to display the single-mindedness that has made this side successful by making five changes to a winning combination for the second Test against the All Blacks.
The Boks generally decide on their combinations two or three Tests in advance and don’t let results dictate the plan. Only injury and suspension will alter the planning.
Winning is always the goal but under that umbrella there are also other considerations such as tactics, and therefore personnel, building experience and testing players under pressure.
On the face of it, this might appear to be chopping and changing for the sake of it, but with Nienaber and the current management, nothing is ever done on a whim.
No 8 Jasper Wiese, despite a strong performance in the first Test against the All Blacks, won 26-10 by the Boks in Nelspruit, drops to the bench. But the All Blacks can’t breathe a sigh of relief because striding into the starting line-up is Duane Vermeulen.
The decorated No 8 has fully recovered from a scope to the knee and arrives back just in time to add more concern to the tourists’ pre-game analysis.
There might have been back slaps all round in camp All Blacks when they saw that Nienaber returned hooker Malcolm Marx to the bench for the 10th time in the last 12 Tests. But the elation would have been short-lived.
Marx’s breakdown masterclass in the first Test will leave scars for a generation and no doubt his impact in that area of the game will be missed in the early exchanges at Ellis Park. Which is where Vermeulen comes in.
The big loose forward is Marx-like when it comes to contesting on the ground. Currently, there is no higher praise than that. Plus, the return of hooker Bongi Mbonambi to the starting line-up doesn’t weaken the Boks in any way.
“Duane has a massive presence on the field and there is no bigger game for him to make his comeback from injury than facing the All Blacks,” said Nienaber.
“He is an enforcer on attack and defence and we know he will give everything against a physical All Blacks team that are desperate to bounce back strongly from a challenging run of results.
“Jasper is also a warrior, and we know that he will have an equally strong presence when he takes the field.”
Empty the tank
Mbonambi brings raging fire to the contest and he will know that he has about 45 minutes to pack in an 80-minute performance.
Loose head prop Ox Nche also returns after sitting out the first Test with Trevor Nyakane dropping out of the 23 altogether in another familiar rotation by Nienaber. Again, Nche will have about 45 minutes to empty the tank before the bomb squad is unleashed.
Tight head Frans Malherbe, perhaps the most underappreciated player in South African rugby (the Boks management excluded), will earn his 50th Test cap to mark yet another important personal and collective milestone.
Already the season, Mbonambi and Marx have earned their 50th caps with lock Eben Etzebeth making his 100th Test appearance against Wales last month. Now Malherbe joins the club. The Boks are building up a massively experienced team with a view to defending the World Cup in France next year.
The total Test caps for the squad is 1049, or 46 per player. In the starting lineup the average Test caps per player among the forwards is 57 and in the backline it’s 36.
“We are very proud of Frans, and it is up to the team to make it a memorable occasion for him by giving their all to register a victory,” Nienaber said.
“Frans’ work ethic is fantastic and although he is quiet off the field, he certainly makes his presence felt on the field.”
Scrum half Jaden Hendrikse will start in place of the injured Faf de Klerk who is sidelined due to concussion. Hendrikse came on after 45 seconds last week and delivered an assured display behind a dominant pack. Herschel Jantjies is back on the bench.
Jesse Kriel is selected on the right wing in place of the suspended Kurt-Lee Arendse. The wing was red-carded in the first Test after a horrific collision with Beauden Barrett that saw the All Black fly half land dangerously on his head.
Arendse has been suspended for four weeks, ruling him out of all but the final match of the Rugby Championship against Argentina. Bulls utility back Canaan Moodie was called up to the squad and is expected to tour Australia and Argentina.
Kriel, normally a centre, is no stranger to wing having started all Tests on the wing during the 2021 northern hemisphere tour. His aerial ability and strong defensive skills are respected and although he doesn’t possess the X-factor of Arendse or Cheslin Kolbe, it’s a pragmatic choice by Nienaber.
“Jesse has played more than 50 Tests, and he has been waiting in the wings for his chance,” Nienaber said. “He’s played wing for us before, so we know what he can bring to the game, and we are also excited to welcome back Herschel, who has played an immense role to help prepare the playing squad for the last two Tests.”
All Blacks backlash
While most of the rugby world is writing the All Blacks off, the Boks certainly aren’t. Nienaber expects that there will be a backlash from New Zealand.
Although Ellis Park is perceived as a Bok fortress, the All Blacks have a strong record at the venue with five wins in 14 visits to the Doornfontein dungeon. That includes two of their last four visits to Ellis Park. And if you include the All Blacks’ two wins at the FNB Stadium, they have won four of their last five visits to Joburg in the past 12 years.
“New Zealand are similar to the Springboks in the sense that they do not give up,” said Nienaber.
“They fought until the end against us at the Mbombela Stadium last week and we expect nothing less from them on Saturday.
“They have quality players within their ranks and given the rich history between the sides in Johannesburg and their desperation to turn things around after a few disappointing results, we know we are in for a massive challenge this weekend.
“Our focus, however, is on improving our game and ensuring that we build on our form from last week. We had an honest assessment of our performance last week.
“While there were several positives, there are areas that we need to make a step-up in, and it will be vital to get that right before we travel to Australia and Argentina for the away leg of the tournament, so this is a vital match for us.” DM
15 Damian Willemse, 14 Jesse Kriel, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche
Reserves: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Jasper Wiese, 21 Kwagga Smith, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Willie le Roux.