Boks take risky approach with untried combinations for Wallaby Test at Loftus
Bok coach Jacques Nienaber selected a team with excellent individuals but desperately lacking in proven combinations to face the Wallabies at Loftus on Saturday.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber revealed his hand with a new-look team to face Australia in the Rugby Championship opener at Loftus. The selection was as much about the week-two assignment against the All Blacks in Auckland as it was about this week in Tshwane.
Cobus Reinach and Manie Libbok will form a halfback partnership with amazing potential but almost zero experience as a combination. They spent a few minutes as a combination against France and Italy last year.
Duane Vermeulen will captain the Boks while Jean Kleyn, capped five times by Ireland but recently cleared to play for South Africa due to a change in eligibility regulations, will make his debut.
He partners with Marvin Orie on the second row for the first time with Kleyn’s Munster teammate RG Snyman on the bench and set for his first Bok appearance in nearly four years. He last played a Test in the 2019 World Cup final against England.
Flank Marco van Staden makes his first Test start after 10 appearances as a replacement to form a brand-new loose trio with Pieter-Steph du Toit and Vermeulen.
In the midfield, Andre Esterhuizen and Lukhanyo Am are paired at centre for the third time but the first time in five years.
Nienaber opted for a six-two split in favour of the forwards on the bench with the only two backline players: Grant Williams, who will provide cover at scrumhalf and wing, and Damian Willemse who will cover flyhalf, centre and fullback.
It all adds up to a team with excellent individuals but desperately lacking in proven combinations, which obviously brings a huge element of risk.
The players who will travel to New Zealand on Tuesday are Steven Kitshoff (prop), Malcolm Marx (hooker), Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager (both locks), Franco Mostert and Jean-Luc du Preez (both utility forwards), Kwagga Smith (loose forward), Faf de Klerk (scrumhalf), Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi (both wings), Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel (both centres) and Siya Kolisi.
Jasper Wiese (loose forward) will join those players in New Zealand later in the week following the birth of his child on Monday.
The group departing early to New Zealand with a handful of management includes Kolisi, who will continue to work with the medical and conditioning staff on his rehabilitation from a knee surgery.
They will be joined early by Nienaber, assistant coach Felix Jones and director of rugby Rassie Erasmus, who will travel to New Zealand immediately after the Australia Test to ensure the team has a full week of training.
Another 17 or 18 players and team management members will travel to New Zealand on Sunday afternoon. That group will be decided following the Test against Australia – based on the team’s needs for the forthcoming Test against New Zealand and player performances against Australia.
“Our plan from the outset was to select a squad that we believe has what it takes to beat Australia while at the same time selecting a group of players that could travel to New Zealand to give us the best possible chance to do well in both matches,” said Nienaber.
“Our last Rugby Championship match is in Johannesburg and then we’ll be able to select a squad from our full complement of players.
“This squad features several Rugby World Cup winners and a crop of younger players who have done the job for us at the highest level, and judging by their enthusiasm and high work ethic at training, we know they are the right players for this big task.”
Nienaber was pleased to have a leader of Vermeulen’s calibre to steer the team into battle and said: “We had a few options as potential captains and we have two good leaders in Duane and Lukhanyo, who has been named vice-captain for this match. They are both quality leaders and they’ll have a lot of experience around them on the field, which is fantastic for us as coaches.” DM
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Canan Moodie, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Duane Vermeulen (c), 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche.
Reserves: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Evan Roos, 21 Deon Fourie, 22 Grant Williams, 23 Damian Willemse.