Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber made 11 changes to his starting lineup for the team’s Castle Lager Incoming Series decider against Wales in Cape Town on Saturday as Eben Etzebeth earns his 100th Test cap and Bongi Mbonambi his 50th.
Etzebeth, who made his Springbok debut in June 2012 against England, will become the seventh player to reach the significant career milestone, following in the footsteps of Victor Matfield, Bryan Habana, Tendai Mtawarira, John Smit, Jean de Villiers and Percy Montgomery.
Nienaber named a new-look backline featuring the versatile Damian Willemse at fullback, with Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi back on the wings, while the regular centre pairing of Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am will again partner up in the midfield.
The Bok coach retained the halfback pairing of Handre Pollard and Jaden Hendrikse in the backline, while regular Bok captain Siya Kolisi reclaims the captaincy in loose trio with Pieter-Steph du Toit (flanker) and Jasper Wiese (No 8).
The other changes up front see Lood de Jager pair up with Etzebeth in the second row, while Nienaber named a new front row of props Trevor Nyakane and Frans Malherbe on either side of Mbonambi, who made his debut off the bench against Ireland in June 2016 and will become the 45th Bok to reach half a century of Test caps.
There were an array of changes among the replacements, which again features a split of six forwards and two backs, with Steven Kitshoff (prop), Franco Mostert, Kwagga Smith (utility forwards), and Elrigh Louw (flanker) featuring alongside scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and fullback Willie le Roux.
While Nienaber was proud of the remarkable career milestones for Etzebeth and Mbonambi, he said the match was significant for the entire team with a Castle Lager Incoming Series victory at stake.
“We are very proud of Eben and Bongi for their achievements, although it would be remiss of us as a team for that to out-shadow the fact that we need to win on Saturday to seal the series against Wales,” said Nienaber.
“Wales have shown over the years and in the last two matches that they are real fighters, and it will require a top-class performance from us on Saturday to register a victory and ultimately clinch the series.
“That said, Eben and Bongi have been true stalwarts to Springbok rugby, and we hope that we can make this a special occasion for them. No-one wants to remember losing their 100th or 50th Test, so we need to do everything we can to win the match.”
Of his team selection Nienaber said: “We selected a team and player combinations that we think will be the best for this specific game.
“We had an honest discussion with the players telling them what we require from them this weekend and what we would like to see in terms of their performance and hopefully they can produce the goods and we can get the desired result.
“We have high standards as a team, and we would like to maintain that and build momentum with a challenging season lying ahead.”
Nienaber expected another brave effort from Wales and said: “We pointed out from the outset of the series that Wales will be desperate and they showed that in the last two weeks.
“We are expecting another hard grind against them and the fact that they will be playing for their first series victory ever in South Africa will make them even more desperate to push us to the limit this weekend, so we know it will be an epic battle.
“That said, we are also playing in what is essentially a final for us and we know that we need to pitch up on the day and deliver a quality 80-minute performance to emerge victorious.”
Springbok team to face Wales in Cape Town:
15 – Damian Willemse (DHL Stormers) – 17 caps, 12 pts (1t, 2c, 1p)
14 – Cheslin Kolbe (Toulon) – 19 caps 18pts, 50pts (10t)
13 – Lukhanyo Am (Cell C Sharks) – 27 caps, 25 pts (5t)
12 – Damian de Allende (Wild Knights) – 59 caps, 35 pts (7t)
11 – Makazole Mapimpi (Cell C Sharks) – 26 caps, 100 pts (20t)
10 – Handre Pollard (Leicester Tigers) – 61 caps, 613 pts (6t, 83c, 131p, 4d)
9 – Jaden Hendrikse (Cell C Sharks) – 3 caps, 5 pts (1t)
8 – Jasper Wiese (Leicester Tigers) – 12 caps, 0 pts
7 – Pieter-Steph du Toit (Toyota Verblitz) – 59 caps, 25 pts (5t)
6 – Siya Kolisi (captain, Cell C Sharks) – 64 caps, 30 pts (6t)
5 – Lood de Jager (Wild Knights) – 57 caps, 25 pts (5t)
4 – Eben Etzebeth (Cell C Sharks) – 99 caps, 15 pts (3t)
3 – Frans Malherbe (DHL Stormers) – 47 caps, 5pts (1t)
2 – Bongi Mbonambi (Cell C Sharks) – 49 caps, 50 pts (10t)
1 – Trevor Nyakane (Racing 92) – 55 caps, 5pts (1t)
16 – Malcolm Marx (Kubota Spears) – 48 caps, 55 pts (11t)
17 – Steven Kitshoff (DHL Stormers) – 60 caps, 5pts (1t)
18 – Vincent Koch (Wasps) 33 caps, 0 pts
19 – Franco Mostert (Honda Heat) – 52 caps, 5pts (1t)
20 – Kwagga Smith (Shizuoka Blue Revs) – 20 caps, 5 pts (1t)
21 – Elrigh Louw (Vodacom Bulls) – 1 cap, 0pts
22 – Faf de Klerk (Canon Eagles) – 37caps, 25pts (5t)
23 – Willie le Roux (Toyota Verblitz) – 73 caps, 60 pts (12t)
Springbok record against Wales:
Played 39, Won 31, Lost 7, Drawn 1, Points for 990, Points against 627, Tries scored 115, Tries conceded 52, Highest score 96, Biggest win 83 Points, Win % 79.
• Saturday’s Test against Wales will mark only the second between the two sides in Cape Town.
• The Springboks need to score 11 points to reach 1000 points against Wales.
• Eben Etzebeth will play in his 100th Test match for South Africa and Bongi Mbonambi his 50th.
• Handre Pollard is the current record holder for most penalty goals against Wales (19), in just seven appearances. Percy Montgomery scored a second best of 10 penalty goals in his nine appearances against Wales.
• Pollard is one of only three Springboks to pull off a drop goal in a Test match against Wales. He kicked a drop goal at Twickenham in London in 2015 (in the RWC quarter-final), while the other players were Hansie Brewis in 1951 in Cardiff, and Lionel Wilson in 1964 in Durban.
• The total Test caps for the Springbok starting line-up is 654.
• There are 212 caps in the backline with 442 caps amongst the forwards. On the bench there are a further 99 Caps.
• The average caps per player in the backline are 30, the forwards 55, while the players on the bench average 40.
[Submitted by Kevin Rademeyer]