Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer stuck with the combinations that ran in training at the start of the week when he named his team for Saturday’s first test of a three match series against England at Kings Park in Durban.
As per the shadow lineup that trained at Northwood College, Zane Kirchner’s selection at fullback ahead of hometown boy Patrick Lambie was the only real surprise or contentious selection. Lambie was the first choice No15 at last year’s World Cup while Kirchner was not part of the Bok group.
There are three new caps in the starting team in the form of Sharks loose-forward Marcell Coetzee, Stormers lock Eben Etzebeth and Bulls lock Juandre Kruger. All three have big boots to fill – Coetzee is playing on the openside flank after Heinrich Brussow was dropped, Etzebeth fills the shoes vacated by the legendary Bakkies Botha (now with French club, Toulon) while Kruger has the onerous task of leading the lineout in place of his mentor, Victor Matfield.
Those areas of inexperience might be the ones England will be targeting on Saturday, although they could come unstuck if they assume weakness for all three are extremely talented players who look like they have big futures ahead of them. In the case of Etzebeth and Coetzee, they are not yet 21 years of age.
But there is experience at the front of the pack and also in the back row, with the all Sharks unit of Beast Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis and Jannie du Plessis having played together often at both Super Rugby and international level. Take away Jannie du Plessis and replace him with John Smit and you would have the front row that gave the British and Irish Lions such a hard time in the scrums at the start of the 2009 series at Saturday’s venue.
Bismarck du Plessis has been appointed vice-captain which could be a significant statement on the part of the coach as Du Plessis spent so many seasons playing behind Smit and yet is now being given a responsibility which could mean he becomes a more permanent fixture in the team. Adriaan Strauss has won the battle with Chiliboy Ralepelle for the right to back up Du Plessis from the bench.
Pierre Spies and Willem Alberts have played enough international rugby now to be able to help ease Coetzee into the top level. The pressure will be on Alberts though to repeat the form he displayed against the Stormers two weeks ago. He has had an iffish season so far, and while he was good against the Cape team, he was a defensive liability for the Sharks last week against the Lions.
Cheetahs prop Coenie Oosthuizen, who is being converted by Meyer into a tighthead, is the only new cap on the bench. There are seven survivors from the Bok team that lost the World Cup quarterfinal to Australia in Wellington last October, plus Alberts and Francois Hougaard, who played off the bench in that match.
“I would like to refer to the reserves as impact players rather than reserves, because that is what they are. I expect them to make an impact when they come on,” said Meyer.
“This is the start of a new era and over the next few weeks I will see which players I can carry on with as we build towards the future.”
Keegan Daniel, the Sharks captain who has not played for the Boks since the 2010 overseas tour, has been rewarded for his good recent form with a place on the bench and could have a crucial role to play later on in the game when it is has opened up.
As anticipated, Jean de Villiers, who played inside centre in Wellington eight months ago, leads the side from outside centre alongside Frans Steyn, who missed the last World Cup match because of injury.
Springbok team: Zane Kirchner, JP Pietersen, Jean de Villiers (captain), Frans Steyn, Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn, Francois Hougaard, Pierre Spies, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Juandre Kruger, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira.
Replacements: Adriaan Strauss, Coenie Oosthuizen, Flip van der Merwe, Keegan Daniel, Ruan Pienaar, Patrick Lambie, Wynand Olivier.