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Hooker Malcolm Marx has earned a starting berth on the occasion of his 50th cap when the Springboks play the All Blacks in Mbombela on Saturday.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber made three changes to the starting team that ran out for their final Test against Wales for their opening Rugby Championship fixture.
Marx will run out at hooker in place of Bongi Mbonambi, while Faf de Klerk comes in at scrumhalf in a rotational switch with Jaden Hendrikse. The only injury-enforced change is on the right wing, where Kurt-Lee Arendse will play his second Test while Cheslin Kolbe is sidelined through injury.
Both Mbonambi and Hendrikse will play off the replacements bench, where the only other change is the inclusion of Salmaan Moerat (lock) in the place of Elrigh Louw (loose forward).
The Springboks opted for a forward-heavy six/two split on the bench, with the versatile Franco Mostert and Kwagga Smith both included as members of the Bomb Squad, while Hendrikse and Willie le Roux are the backs on the bench.
“We feel it is a big occasion to play one’s 50th Test so it will be good for him to start, while we believe Faf’s experience and style of play will complement our game against the All Blacks,” said Nienaber in relation to Marx’s landmark match.
“These changes resulted in direct swaps to the bench for Bongi and Jaden, and with Salmaan covering lock we can either use Franco [Mostert] at lock or flanker, and we have Kwagga [Smith], who can also provide cover in the loose trio and even on the wing if needs be.
“We played two Tests with a similar team in the incoming series, and we feel this is the right squad for this specific challenge against New Zealand.
“The All Blacks are strong all around and they will come to Nelspruit [Mbombela] desperate to avenge their series defeat against Ireland and to prove they remain one of the powerhouses in world rugby, so we believe experience and physicality will be vital in this Test.”
Nienaber has the highest regard for Marx, who made his debut against the All Blacks in 2016. “We are very proud of Malcolm’s achievement, and we wish him all the best for the game. He is a true warrior, and he epitomises what we stand for as the Springboks.
“But as we said with the recent milestones of Eben [Etzebeth] and Bongi [Mbonambi], we are preparing for a challenging Test that will be vital in setting the tone for our Rugby Championship campaign this year, and that is our focus.
“The occasion will be so much more special for Malcolm if we win the Test, and the entire team need to do their best so that he can look back at this occasion with good memories.”
Nienaber expects the All Blacks to come out guns blazing in their opening two matches at Mbombela Stadium (August 6) and at Ellis Park in Johannesburg (August 13). The Boks are expecting as big an onslaught as SA has faced against New Zealand in the past.
“The Springboks and All Blacks have a unique rivalry, and we always bring the best out of one another,” Nienaber said.
“They will play a different style of rugby to Wales, and we have been preparing for that. Like many of the northern hemisphere teams their set pieces are strong and they have fantastic skills in their backline so we’ll have to be at our best to register a win.
“That said, we had our review of the Wales Tests and we know where we need to improve and last week’s training camp in Hazyview allowed us to focus on those areas of our game.
“This week our focus is more on New Zealand and the areas of the game we feel will be vital to give us the best possible chance to start the series on a positive note.
“New Zealand have always tested us to the limit, and it will be no different in the next two weeks.”
Springbok team in Mbombela: Damian Willemse; Kurt-Lee Arendse, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi; Handré Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Jasper Wiese, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (capt); Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth; Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Salmaan Moerat, Franco Mostert, Kwagga Smith; Jaden Hendrikse, Willie le Roux.
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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.