Four years on, 16 Bok survivors in New Zealand return to battle All Blacks
The Springboks have made 10 changes to the starting lineup that beat Australia 43-12 last week, for this weekend’s Rugby Championship clash against the All Blacks in Auckland.
It’s a sign of the experience and deep consistency in thought and selection that the first Springbok team to take on the All Blacks in New Zealand in four years, includes 16 players that did duty in 2019.
The Boks earned a 16-all draw in Wellington four years ago and it’s a clear indication that they believe the same principles to stress the All Blacks apply. Especially when the Kiwis are at home.
Power, set piece dominance, a superior kicking game and brutal defence are the best ways to improve chances of gaining a positive result.
Lock Eben Etzebeth will captain the Boks in the absence of the injured Siya Kolisi in a side that predictably shows 10 changes to the starting XV that beat Australia 43-12 at Loftus last week.
It’s the first time Etzebeth will lead the team since 20 July, 2019 when he captained the Boks to a 35-17 win over Australia at Ellis Park. That was ironically, a week before the Test against the All Blacks when the coaching staff employed the same split squad strategy and flew an advance party to New Zealand.
It’s also Etzebeth’s first match since early April, when he sustained a shoulder injury playing for the Sharks in a Champions Cup clash against Munster. A three-month lay-off means he will go into the Test severely match-shy, but conversely fresh and niggle free.
The front row of Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi and Frans Malherbe start for a second week running, as do centre Lukhanyo Am and fullback Willie le Roux.
But otherwise, it’s all change for the Boks. Faf de Klerk and Damian Willemse are paired at halfback with Cheslin Kolbe, Makazole Mapimpi and Damian de Allende slotting in at wings and centre respectively.
In the back row Jasper Wiese, Franco Mostert and Kwagga Smith start as a combination for the first time, but they have played together numerous times later in matches. Lood de Jager partners Etzebeth at lock.
The bench is brimming with power. Thomas du Toit and Vincent Koch are the prop reserves with hooker Malcolm Marx again biding his time on the bench.
Lock RG Snyman is set for his second Test in four years after making his comeback at Loftus last week, while Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen, who were both excellent against the Wallabies last week, are in the bomb squad.
Grant Williams and Manie Libbok are the only two backline players in reserve and will offer flair and athleticism in combination with the raw power of the two sets of forwards.
It’s a Bok side brimming with menace, especially on the bench. There is little doubt that this Bok team is designed to take the All Blacks on physically from minute one to minute 80 and beyond. There just won’t be any letup when it comes to set-piece pressure and collisions for the home team.
“The plan was always to send some guys here a little bit earlier, which gives you the benefit of them adjusting to the different time zones,” coach Jacques Nienaber said.
“But the benefit for the guys who stayed and played the Test match at Loftus, they got exposure to top international rugby, which the guys who’re here probably haven’t had. So, there are pros and cons to both.
“The players who came early are nice and fresh and well-adjusted to the time zones, but they haven’t had international rugby exposure. The other guys are maybe a little bit stiff and sore today (Tuesday) and adjusting to the time zones, but they have had a proper match under the belt.”
Nienaber explained that due to the unique demands in a World Cup year, the split squad system, while not perfect, is essential to achieving their selection objectives.
“We know that we need a squad to build momentum during the Rugby Championship, to be competitive and hopefully to win the Championship,” Nienaber said.
“We also know that we need a squad and we need a squad for the two Rugby World Cup warm-up games against Wales and against the All Blacks.
“And then we will need a squad for the World Cup. So I think the thing is, and we said it from the start, there wasn’t an A and a B side. The team that we selected to play last week is a team that we felt had the right mix to be competitive against Australia. And it’s the same with this one.
“Obviously had there been injuries there could have been changes. We weren’t 100% sure of how this team would pan out.
“But the team selected for this weekend is obviously a team that we feel can be competitive against a very good New Zealand side.
“If you look at the last couple of exchanges they were always close and that’s the nature of the competition between the two countries. The main thing is we will need a (big) squad.” DM
*denotes involved in last match in New Zealand in 2019
15 Willie le Roux*, 14 Cheslin Kolbe*, 13 Lukhanyo Am*, 12 Damian de Allende*, 11 Makazole Mapimpi*, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Faf de Klerk*, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Franco Mostert*, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Lood de Jager*, 4 Eben Etzebeth (captain)*, 3 Frans Malherbe*, 2 Bongi Mbonambi*, 1 Steven Kitshoff*.
Reserves: 16 Malcolm Marx*, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman*, 20 Pieter-Steph du Toit*, 21 Duane Vermeulen*, 22 Grant Williams, 23 Manie Libbok.