Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber named two uncapped players in his starting line-up and a further four among the replacements as he reshuffled his squad to build depth for their second Test against Wales at the Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
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Two players who have been in hot form recently, Kurt-Lee Arendse (outside back) and Evan Roos (No 8), have been handed starts, while Ntuthuko Mchunu (prop), Ruan Nortje (lock), Deon Fourie (utility forward) and Grant Williams (scrumhalf) could make their debuts off the bench.
Three players in the match-23 retained their places in the squad from last week’s 32-29 victory in the opening Test against Wales, namely experienced lock Eben Etzebeth, who will earns his 99th cap for South Africa on Saturday, while prop Vincent Koch and utility back Damian Willemse have been included on the bench.
Furthermore, experienced flyhalf Handre Pollard, who returns to the squad after not featuring in the first Test, will take over the captaincy from Siya Kolisi this week.
Nienaber stressed that while building winning momentum was vital as the international season picks up steam, one of the key facets for the team was building depth, especially with an eye on next year’s Rugby World Cup.
“We said from the outset that we needed to strike a balance between giving our talented young players an opportunity to show what they can do at international level, and winning,” said Nienaber.
“If one looks at the balance between players who have played at this level and those who have performed consistently well for their franchises and clubs, I think we have a nice balance in this squad.
“A number of these players have been with us for a few seasons, while others travelled with us last season to Australia for the Castle Lager Rugby Championship and the year-end tour, and then there are a few new faces who showed during the season that they have the potential to rise to this level of the game, so we are excited to see what they can do on Saturday.
“Wales showed last week that they are fighters and can go for the full 80 minutes and we are expecting nothing different from them this week. This will certainly be a good test for the younger players in the group to measure themselves against some of the best players in Wales, some of whom played for the British & Irish Lions, so everyone knows they will be in for a proper Test on Saturday.”
Nienaber again opted for a split of six forwards and two backs on the bench, with Willemse’s versatility seeing him able to cover flyhalf, centre and fullback, while Williams, who has been waiting in the wings at scrumhalf, provides cover at for his provincial team-mate Jaden Hendrikse.
“We are delighted to see these players get an opportunity at this level and I believe if they play to their potential, they will bolster our depth going forward,” said Nienaber.
“They are all very excited at the prospect of wearing the green and gold, but they also know what Wales will bring on the day and that every opportunity will be important.”
On handing the captaincy the Pollard, the Bok coach said: “Handre is one of our most experienced players and has been part of our core leadership group for a number of years now, I’m sure he will slot into the role with ease.”
Looking ahead at the match, Nienaber said: “Wales will certainly gain confidence from their performance last week, and I have no doubt they will feel aggrieved by the fact that they lost out so narrowly, so we know we have to produce a top-class performance to win this weekend.
“The set pieces are going to be a key area once again, and we have identified the areas that we need to improve on and have already started working on those facets of the game.
“They are a team that keep going until the final whistle, so we expect them to push us to the limit, but we know what our standards are a team, and every player knows what is expected of him.
“It is definitely going to take a full 80-minute effort to win the match, and if we do well, hopefully the results will take of itself.”
15 – Warrick Gelant (Racing 92) 9 caps, 15 pts (3t)
14 – Kurt-Lee Arendse (Vodacom Bulls) – uncapped
13 – Jesse Kriel (Canon Eagles) – 51 caps, 60 pts (12t)
12 – Andre Esterhuizen (Harlequins) 8 caps, 0 pts
11 – Aphelele Fassi (Cell C Sharks) 2 caps, 10 pts (2t)
10 – Handre Pollard (captain – Leicester) 60 caps, 601 pts (6t, 83c, 131p, 4d)
9 – Jaden Hendrikse (Cell C Sharks) 2 caps, 5 pts (1t)
8 – Evan Roos (DHL Stormers) – uncapped
7 – Pieter-Steph du Toit (Toyota Verblitz) 58 caps, 25 pts (5t)
6 – Marcell Coetzee (Vodacom Bulls) 30 caps, 30 pts (6t)
5 – Marvin Orie (DHL Stormers) – 7 caps, 0 pts
4 – Eben Etzebeth (Cell C Sharks) 98 caps, 15 pts (3t)
3 – Trevor Nyakane (Racing 92) 54 caps, 5pts (1t)
2 – Joseph Dweba (DHL Stormers) 1 cap, 0 pts
1 – Thomas du Toit (Cell C Sharks) 13 caps, 0 pts
16 – Malcolm Marx (Kubota Spears) 47 caps, 55 pts (11t)
17 – Ntuthuko Mchunu (Cell C Sharks) – uncapped
18 – Vincent Koch (Wasps) 32 caps, 0 pts
19 – Ruan Nortje (Vodacom Bulls) – uncapped
20 – Rynhardt Elstadt (Toulouse) – 3 caps, 0 pts
21 – Deon Fourie (DHL Stormers – uncapped)
22 – Grant Williams (Cell C Sharks) – uncapped
23 – Damian Willemse (DHL Stormers) 17 caps, 12 pts (1T, 2C, 1P)