Springbok prop Tendai Mtawarira. Picture: GAVIN BARKER/ BACKPAGEPIX
Springbok prop Tendai Mtawarira. Picture: GAVIN BARKER/ BACKPAGEPIX

Dublin — Props Tendai Mtawarira and Coenie Oosthuizen both return to bolster SA’s pack as coach Allister Coetzee picked a strong team to face Ireland in Dublin on Saturday in the first Test of a four-match European tour.

The two veteran prop forwards missed the narrow loss to world champions New Zealand in Cape Town in October – Mtawarira with a family problem and Oosthuizen after breaking his arm in the Rugby Championship campaign.

Mtawarira replaces Steven Kitshoff, who drops to the bench, and Oosthuizen comes in for Ruan Dreyer, who is in the tour party but not in Saturday’s match squad.

Damian de Allende will start at centre in place of Jan Serfontein, who was not selected for the tour as he starts a new career at Montpellier in France.

"Continuity is important and we have kept changes to a minimum. I am really excited to see Damian getting an opportunity on Saturday. He has worked very hard and looked good in training," said Coetzee, who is seeking to portray the Irish as the favourites.

"They beat us here in 2014 and, with an experienced coaching team and world-class players, they are rightfully considered as the favourites and are one of a few teams in the last five years that managed to beat the All Blacks.

"The Irish have a world-class halfback pair and their set-piece play is extremely good, so it will be a great battle on Saturday. They know how to keep the ball and use a good kicking game to put teams under pressure."

New Zealand-born Bundee Aki makes his Test debut for adopted country Ireland on Saturday in their one-off Test with the Springboks after coach Joe Schmidt unveiled his starting XV on Thursday.

The 27-year-old centre — who qualified under the residency rule in October — is reunited with former Connacht teammate Robbie Henshaw, with whom he formed an effective partnership when their province won the Pro 12 trophy in 2016. Aki gets the nod as Garry Ringrose and Jared Payne are both injured.

Schmidt deflected criticism of Aki being selected, saying: "Sometimes where you are born is less relevant than where you have invested over recent years, and Bundee has done that in the west for Connacht.

"He has played an immense amount of rugby for them. I think it [the debate over selection] is an immense distraction and I feel sorry for Bundee and hope he isn’t distracted by that."

Aki is the only full debutant, though 21-year-old Ulster wing Jacob Stockdale gets to make his home debut having played two Tests on the tour of the US and Japan earlier this year.

Stockdale gets his chance over more prestigious options with the experienced Simon Zebo having been omitted from the squad after he agreed to a lucrative move to a Top 14 side thought to be Racing 92.

Another inexperienced wing, Andrew Conway, wins his fourth cap after his Munster teammate, veteran Keith Earls, sustained a hamstring injury. The rest of the side — several of whom played in the 2-1 series loss in SA last year — are packed with experience.

The formidable halfback pair of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton come together for the first time since the British and Irish Lions drawn series with New Zealand.

Reuters, AFP

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