Jacques Nienaber says the makeshift of the Springbok match-day 23 to face Wales on Saturday in Pretoria was determined by the overlapping skill set of his squad.
Elton Jantjies and Damian Willemse will start at flyhalf and fullback in an overhauled Springbok team to kick off the 2022 season, with seven changes to the starting lineup that went down 27-26 against England at Twickenham in November last year.
Meanwhile, Salmaan Moerat and Elrigh Louw are in line to make their Test debuts from the bench. Moerat, a member of the Bok touring squad for last season’s UK tour, and Louw have been standout performers for the Stormers and Vodacom Bulls, respectively, in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship this season.
“We have a talented group of players, and we believe the match-day squad we selected ticks the boxes in terms of what we would like to achieve in the opening Test against Wales,” said Nienaber.
“We have the added advantage of having several players that are quite versatile, so a guy like Damian Willemse, for example, can cover flyhalf and centre in addition to fullback, while Kwagga covers each of the loose-forward positions and can even slot in at wing with his Blitzbok experience.
“Franco also gives us options at loose forward and lock, so we look forward to seeing what this team can produce on Saturday.”
Nienaber was delighted to offer Moerat and Louw – who are both former Junior Springbok players and have made a consistent impact for their respective franchises over the past few seasons – an opportunity to start on the replacements bench.
“We have a fantastic crop of young players who have really been working hard at training and putting up their hands, and it is pleasing for us as coaches to give Salmaan and Elrigh this opportunity,” said the Springbok coach.
“Salmaan was with us on our tour to the UK last season, and despite being so young he brings a different sense of experience as a former Junior Springbok and SA Schools captain, while Elrigh also featured in a World Rugby U20 Championship and has been playing senior provincial rugby for a while.
“We have a plan for the season in terms of giving some of the young players a chance to show what they can do at international level, while at the same time taking stock of the seasoned campaigners and where they are in terms of their rugby.
“Unfortunately, with such a big squad there will always be a few unlucky players, but it is a fine balancing act to ensure we win Tests, build squad depth, and transform as a team in the way we play.
“That said, we are looking forward to seeing what Salmaan and Elrigh have to offer if they get the opportunity to take the field.”
Nienaber expected a tough Test against Wales, saying they will give everything as they look to turn things around following a disappointing Six Nations campaign.
“Wales have been training together for a few weeks now and we have no doubt that they will give everything against us on Saturday,” said Nienaber.
“They are an experienced squad, and they have top-class players in their ranks – some of which represented the British & Irish Lions last year – so we are expecting a hard grind of a Test.
“They have physical forwards and backs that spark something from nothing, so we need to deliver a quality performance in order to get our season off to a strong start.”