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Rassie's bolters for Wales Test revealed

TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus named an exciting matchday 23 that will be captained by flank Pieter-Steph du Toit and features four uncapped players.

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World Cup-winning prop Vincent Koch will earn his 50th Test cap on Saturday when South Africa take on Wales at Twickenham in their first international since lifting the Webb Ellis Cup in France in October last year.

Edwill van der Merwe (wing) and Jordan Hendrikse (flyhalf) are the two uncapped players named in the starting XV.

The team features a good balance of youth and experience, with Ben-Jason Dixon (lock) and Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu (utility back) as the two new faces on the replacement bench.

A total of 10 players in the matchday squad featured in the 2023 World Cup final, while 16 players were members of the World Cup squad.

Erasmus welcomed back experienced hooker Malcolm Marx, who last ran out for the team in their opening World Cup encounter against Scotland before suffering a knee injury at training which ruled him out of further tournament action.

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Thirty players will travel to London on Wednesday, with those outside of the matchday squad being Manie Libbok (flyhalf), RG Snyman (lock) – both World Cup winners – Neethling Fouche (prop), Phepsi Buthelezi (loose forward), Ethan Hooker (centre), Quan Horn (fullback), and Andre-Hugo Venter (hooker).

With Snyman plying his trade in Ireland, he will make the short flight to London to join the squad following Munster’s exit from the United Rugby Championship in the semifinal against the Glasgow Warriors last weekend.

Five players in the starting team featured in the same positions at Stade de France in October last year, where the Springboks edged the All Blacks 12-11 to be crowned world champions for the second time in a row.

They are the duo of Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert, Du Toit, Faf de Klerk and Jesse Kriel – who has been named vice-captain for this match.

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Erasmus opted for a five-three split in favour of the forwards on the replacement bench, which includes four World Cup winners – Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe, Grant Williams, and Damian de Allende respectively.

(Continue below …)

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“This is an exciting playing squad and travelling group,” Erasmus said.

“We are looking forward to seeing how the uncapped players step up at the top international level and how we execute what we’ve been working on at training in the last few days and at the alignment camps,” the Bok coach added.

“The likes of Edwill, Jordan, Ben-Jason, and Sacha have impressed us at training, and we believe they have what it takes to make their presence felt against a quality team such as Wales.

“They will be surrounded by several experienced campaigners – some of whom are World Cup winners – so they will have enough guidance on the field to fulfil their roles even when the pressure is on.

“It is equally exciting for us to see players such as Aphelele [Fassi], Evan [Roos], Ntuthuko [Mchunu], and Salmaan [Moerat] back in the green in gold after earning their stripes in the last few seasons.”

Erasmus was confident that the remaining members of the travelling squad would benefit immensely from being exposed to the Test environment and experiencing first-hand what is required of them during a Test week.

He had no doubt it would also bode well for the team as the Boks prepare for the 2024 season with a long-term view on the 2027 World Cup in Australia.

Commenting on the decision to hand Du Toit the captaincy, Erasmus said it was well deserved and personal for the player since the first and only time he led the team was against Wales in Washington in 2018 – a Test the Boks lost 22-20.

“Pieter-Steph has been a key figure in our system for several years now and he’s a player who leads by example on the field,” said Erasmus.

“We have a strong core of senior players in this group, and we had a few options for captain, but we feel Pieter-Steph will be the right man to lead the team this week.

“He has captained the Springboks only once before and that was against Wales in 2018, and after that result, we believe it will make this match even more personal for him. Over and above that, he has immense respect from his teammates and the coaches, and we know he will accept this responsibility with great pride.”

Erasmus was delighted to see Koch earn his 50th Test cap and lauded the player for being a stalwart for the Boks.

“It’s a special achievement to play 50 Tests,” said Erasmus.

“It requires one to play well consistently and to continue to deliver, and Vincent has certainly done that for us over the years.

“He’s a hard worker, and he’s had a great season for the Sharks, so we all share in the excitement for him ahead of this big occasion.

“Being such a good team man, I’m sure this will motivate the team, even more, to start the season on a high note, which will be vital to build momentum before the Castle Lager Incoming Series kicks off against Ireland in July.”

Erasmus was pleased with the quality of the squad selected, especially with several regular first-choice players recovering from injuries and niggles including Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am – who has been allowed to continue his rehabilitation from rib and shoulder injuries with the squad – as well as Damian Willemse among others, to add to a list of players who are ineligible for selection due to the Bulls advancing to the grand final of the URC and the Test falling outside of the international window.

“We knew what challenges we would face in selecting the squad for this training camp and the Wales Test, but as a team, we turned it into a fantastic opportunity to blood a few youngsters and expose them to the national set-up, which will be vital in the next few years as we build a squad capable of trying to win the World Cup in 2027,” said Erasmus.

“We are already reaping the rewards of exposing a few players to Test rugby in the last few years, with some of them being selected for the World Cup, while some players are taking the field on Saturday already know what it takes to succeed at international level.

“Building squad depth is one of our key pillars as a team, and this camp and Test match, as well as the one coming up against Portugal in Bloemfontein, will allow us to tick that box with an eye on the next few years.”

South Africa: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Edwill van der Merwe, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Jordan Hendrikse, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Evan Roos, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit (captain), 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Ox Nche.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Ben-Jason Dixon, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, 23 Damian de Allende.

Date: Saturday, June 22
Venue: Twickenham, London
Kick-off: 14.00 (15.00 SA time; 13.00 GMT)
Referee: Chris Busby (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Christophe Ridley (England), Adam Leal (England)
TMO: Mark Patton (Ireland)

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In this episode of Walk the Talk, Jim Hamilton chats with double World Cup winner Damian de Allende about all things Springbok rugby, including RWC2023 and the upcoming Ireland series. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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