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When Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber was asked last week at the team announcement for the first Test how many players in his group he would like to play in the three-Test series against Wales, he boldly declared all 42.
Few took that comment at face value but Nienaber has backed up those words by making sweeping changes to his match-day squad for this weekend’s second Test in Bloemfontein.
Only Eben Etzebeth, Malcolm Marx, Vincent Koch and Damian Willemse will again feature in the match day squad as Nienaber ramps up his preparations for next year’s Rugby World Cup in France.
The coach named two uncapped players in his starting line-up and a further four among the replacements as he reshuffled his squad to build depth for their second Test.
Two players who have been in hot form recently, Kurt-Lee Arendse (outside back) and Evan Roos (No 8), have been handed starts, while Ntuthuko Mchunu (prop), Ruan Nortjé (lock), Deon Fourie (utility forward) and Grant Williams (scrumhalf) could make their debuts off the bench.
The captain’s armband will be worn by flyhalf Handré Pollard, who was left out of the squad for the first Test.
“Handré is one of our most experienced players and has been part of our core leadership group for a number of years now, I’m sure he will slot into the role with ease,” said Nienaber.
Apart from building capacity and depth ahead of the World Cup, Nienaber stressed that maintaining momentum was vital. Mind you, had he said he was making the changes because he was looking for a much better performance given the close call they had in Pretoria, it might also have been palatable.
“We said from the outset that we needed to strike a balance between giving our talented young players an opportunity to show what they can do at international level, and winning,” said Nienaber.
“If one looks at the balance between players who have played at this level and those who have performed consistently well for their franchises and clubs, I think we have a nice balance in this squad.
“A number of these players have been with us for a few seasons, while others travelled with us last season to Australia for the Rugby Championship and the year-end tour. And then there are a few new faces who showed during the season that they have the potential to rise to this level of the game, so we are excited to see what they can do on Saturday.
“Wales showed last week that they are fighters and can go for the full 80 minutes and we are expecting nothing different from them this week. This will certainly be a good test for the younger players in the group to measure themselves against some of the best players in Wales, some of whom played for the British & Irish Lions, so everyone knows they will be in for a proper Test on Saturday.”
Nienaber again has a split of six forwards and two backs on the bench, with Willemse’s versatility seeing him able to cover flyhalf, centre and fullback. Williams, who has had to bide time as one of the reserve scrumhalves, provides cover for provincial teammate Jaden Hendrikse.
“We are delighted to see these players get an opportunity at this level and I believe if they play to their potential, they will bolster our depth going forward,” Nienaber said.
“They are all very excited at the prospect of wearing the green and gold, but they also know what Wales will bring on the day and that every opportunity will be important.”
Springbok team: Warrick Gelant; Kurt-Lee Arendse, Jesse Kriel, André Esterhuizen, Aphelele Fassi; Handré Pollard (captain) Jaden Hendrikse; Evan Roos, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Marcell Coetzee; Marvin Orie, Eben Etzebeth; Trevor Nyakane, Joseph Dweba. Thomas du Toit.
Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Ntuthuko Mchunu, Vincent Koch, Ruan Nortje, Rynhardt Elstadt, Deon Fourie, Grant Williams, Damian Willemse
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Published by Arena Holdings and distributed with the Financial Mail on the last Thursday of every month except December and January.