Jacques Nienaber has emphasised that the Springboks expect returning flyhalf Elton Jantjies to be “much sharper” off the bench against the Wallabies on Saturday. DYLAN JACK reports.
Nienaber announced the match-day squad on Monday and made a handful of changes to the side that went down to the All Blacks at Ellis Park.
In the most noteworthy change, Warrick Gelant starts on the right wing in place of Jesse Kriel (concussion), with the Springboks now down to their fifth-choice option in the position – the list includes Kriel, Cheslin Kolbe, Kurt-Lee Arendse and Sbu Nkosi.
However, equally as notable is the decision to shake up the bench. The Springboks have turned away from the six-two split between forwards and backs, reverting to a more traditional five-three.
Willie le Roux, who has been a match-saver at times off the bench this year, has been left out of the match-day 23 entirely. Instead, Frans Steyn and Elton Jantjies, both very short of game time, have been called up as replacements.
Steyn has yet to play a Test this year and was last in action during the Currie Cup in May when he suffered a hamstring injury that ruled him out of the July series against Wales.
In explaining the decision to bring Steyn back, Nienaber said that while he would have preferred the veteran to get a few more games under his belt with the Cheetahs, the lack of an ongoing club competition means the Boks have opted to recall him based on his efforts in training.
“Frans had an injury. When he got injured against Griquas in the Currie Cup, we said we would bring him in as soon as he is done with his rehab and is back to full fitness. Before he joined us, he was busy with pre-season at the Cheetahs, so we are happy with where he is,” explained Nienaber.
“Not having game time, that’s unfortunately a consequence of where we are, playing Rugby Championship now. We compete internationally in the southern hemisphere, but at club level we are aligned with the northern hemisphere. Our seasons are a bit misaligned. It’s the same for Duane.
“There’s unfortunately no club rugby currently, to let our players play. We can only see them in training sessions, which is why we push our intensity to match Test situations.
“We wouldn’t have selected Frans if we didn’t think he was up to standard.
“We know what we have in Willie,” added Nienaber. “If we are behind – like we were against Wales – he can come on and change the game for us. We know he can also close the game out for us, if he has to.
“It will be nice to see what Frans can bring to the party. We know last year, when we played New Zealand, Frans came on when we won on the Gold Coast. He had an unbelievable game. We know what he can bring and he is experienced. We are just looking forward to getting Frans back on to the park.”
The last time Elton Jantjies played, the 32-year-old had a game to forget – filled with misplaced kicks and poor decisions – as the Springboks fell 18-3 behind in the series opener against Wales in Pretoria and was replaced at half time. Jantjies has not had a minute of game time since.
“In terms of Elton’s form, like I said with Frans, the only place where we can see them is in training, which we push to match intensity. He has been performing well in training, so I expect him to be much sharper,” said Nienaber.
Meanwhile, Duane Vermeulen and Joseph Dweba have both retained their places in the starting pack, despite both being replaced inside the opening 30 minutes of the loss to the All Blacks in Johannesburg.
“We definitely expect more minutes out of Duane this weekend,” said Nienaber. “He’s been training well. We all know what quality he is and the experience he brings. We have had a good week with him.
“We don’t want to go into too much detail, but there are technical reasons why we select the team that we do. We see our front row, the starters and the bench, as a pair or unit. There’s a tactical reason why we select them like we do.”
Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix