Boks lose attacking flair; gain real muscle
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Duane Vermeulen will make his first appearance for the Springboks since the 2019 World Cup Final, when South Africa resume their Rugby Championship campaign against Australia on the Gold Coast on Sunday.
The experienced No.8 – who joined the Springbok squad at the start of the British and Irish Lions Series in August, but has yet to play a match – has recovered fully from the ankle surgery he had earlier this year and headlines the return of a handful of injured players for the important encounter.
Scrumhalves Francois de Klerk (leg strain) and Herschel Jantjies (hip pointer), as well as flank Marco van Staden (ankle), are also back from injury.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber made 13 changes to his matchday squad – from the team that played in the Round Two win (29-10) over Argentina in Port Elizabeth last month.
Seven of those changes are in the starting line-up and another six on the replacements bench.
Five of the changes to the starting are amongst the forwards.
Vermeulen takes over from Jasper Wiese at the back of the scrum and Eben Etzebeth comes in for Marvin Orie at lock.
There is a new front row of Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe (props) and Bongi Mbonambi (hooker).
The two changes in the backline are on the right wing, where Sibusiso Nkosi replaces Cheslin Kolbe – who took a knock to the leg at training – and scrumhalf, where De Klerk returns for the first time since the second Test against the B&I Lions in place of Cobus Reinach.
“Unfortunately, we lost Cheslin to injury, but we are fortunate to have Sbu who steps in,” the coach, Nienaber, said.
“He’s been working hard at training and he is eager to get back on the field.”
Malcolm Marx (hooker), Retshegofaditswe Nché, Vincent Koch (both props), Van Staden, Wiese and Jantjies will join Damian Willemse (utility back) and Albertus Smith (loose forward) on a forward-heavy replacements bench, which features a six-two split.
Nienaber was pleased to have a handful of players back from injury as the Springboks embark on a challenging four-week stretch to defend their Rugby Championship title, with back-to-back Tests against Australia before successive encounters against New Zealand.
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“We have been following the progress of the injured players on a daily basis, so we knew that we would be in a position to select most of them for this match,” said Nienaber.
“Duane has played an active role off the field in our team meetings and with the analysis of the opposition, and he has also provided guidance at training.
“He returned to full training when we arrived in Australia, so he has been in the thick of things for a while now.
“Duane [Vermeulen], Faf [De Klerk] and Herschel [Jantjies] are Rugby World Cup winners, and so is Eben [Etzebeth], who is back after we rotated him to manage his workload.
“Marco [Van Staden] has made a strong impact on the field this season as well, so we are pleased to have them back in the fold.”
The Bok coach said Australia pose a “strong threat” with their running rugby and they like to keep the ball in play.
“They will also be playing in front of a charged-up home crowd, so it will be good to have these experienced players back as they know what it takes to perform in big matches.
With the Springboks’ last Test being close to three weeks ago, Nienaber said it was important for the team to hit the ground running against Australia to maintain the momentum they’ve built up this season.
“We had sufficient time since our last Test to give the players a break after the physically taxing start to the season, and to work in a hard conditioning week before we tackle the remaining four Rugby Championship matches,” said Nienaber.
“We will be tested thoroughly in the next four weeks, so we have to be up for the challenge mentally and physically.
“There are also trophies such as the Nelson Mandela Challenge Plate and the Freedom Cup up for grabs, so we will prepare well and give our best on the field.”
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Sibusiso Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Franco Mostert, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi (captain), 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Retshegofaditswe Nché, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Marco van Staden, 20 Albertus Smith, 21 Jasper Wiese, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Damian Willemse.
Date: Sunday, September 12
Venue: Robina Stadium, Gold Coast
Kick-off: 20.05 (12.5 SA time; 10.05 GMT)
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: Damon Murphy (Australia), Jordan Way (Australia)
TMO: Matthew Carley (England)