It’s a mark of experience and deep consistency of thought and selection that the Springbok’s first team to face New Zealand’s All Blacks in four years, featuring 16 players who did home in 2019.
The Boks got 16 draws in Wellington four years ago, which is a clear indication that they believe in the same principles of emphasizing the All Blacks. Especially when the kiwi is in the house.
Power, control from set pieces, superior kicking and brutal defense are the best ways to improve your chances of getting a result.
Luke Eben Etzebeth will take over the captaincy in the absence of the injured Sia Colce in a side that predictably made 10 changes to the starting line-up that beat Australia 43-12 at Loftus last week.
This is the first time Etzebeth has led the team since July 20, 2019 when he led the Boks to a 35-17 victory over Australia at Ellis Park. It was, ironically, a week before the Test against the All Blacks when the coaching staff used the same split squad strategy and flew an advance team to New Zealand.
It is also Etzebeth’s first game since early April, when he picked up a shoulder injury playing for Sharks in their Champions Trophy match against Munster. A three-month layoff means that he will take the test fiercely shy, but on the contrary fresh and undisturbed.
The front row starts for Steven Ketchov, Bonjie Mbonambi and Frans Malherbe for the second week in a row, as does center Luchanio AM and fullback Willy Le Roux.
But other than that, everything changes for the Boks. Pfaff de Klerk and Damien Willemsey pair up at centre-back, with Cheslin Colby, Makazol Mpembe and Damien de Allende scoring in the wings and in the middle respectively.
In the back row, Jasper Wizzy, Franco Mostert and Quagga Smith start out as a group for the first time, but play together a few times later in matches. Lood de Jager partners Etzebeth at the lock.
The seat is full of strength. Thomas du Toit and Vincent Koch are the full-back hookers. Malcolm Marks once again spends his time on the bench.
Lock RG Snyman is set for his second Test in four years after returning to Loftus last week, while Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen, who were excellent against the Wallabies last week, are in the bomb squad.
Grant Williams and Manny LeBoc are the only players in the backline on the reserves and will bring flair and athleticism along with the raw power of the two sets of forwards.
It’s a Bock side full of danger, especially off the bench. There is no doubt that this Bok team is designed to take the All Blacks physically from the first minute to the 80th minute and beyond. There will be no stopping when it comes to pressing set-pieces and collisions for the home team.
“The plan was always to send some guys here a little earlier, which gives you the advantage of adapting to different time zones,” said coach Jack Nenaber.
“But the benefit to the players who stayed and played the Test match at Loftus, they were exposed to better international rugby, which the players here probably didn’t get. So, there are pros and cons to both.
“The players who came early are nice and fresh and well adapted to the time zones, but they haven’t been exposed to rugby internationally. The other players are maybe a bit stiff and sore today (Tuesday) and adjusting to the time zones, but they have a decent match under their belt.”
Nenaber explained that due to the unique requirements in a World Cup year, the split band system, while not perfect, is essential to achieving their selection goals.
“We know we need a team to build momentum during the rugby tournament, to be competitive and hopefully win the championship,” said Nenaber.
“We also know we need a team and we need a team for the two Rugby World Cup warm-up games against Wales and against the All Blacks.
“And then we’d need a World Cup team. So I think the thing is, and we’ve said that from the start, there weren’t two A and B sides. The team we picked to play last week is a team we felt had the right mix to compete against Australia. And it’s the same with this one. .
“Obviously if there had been injuries, changes could have been made. We weren’t 100% sure how this team would succeed.
“But the team chosen for this weekend is a team we feel can compete against a very good New Zealand team.
“If you look at the recent exchanges, they have always been close and that is the nature of the competition between the two countries. The main thing is that we will need a (senior) team.” DM
* denotes participation in the last match in New Zealand in 2019
15 Willie le Roux*, 14 Cheslin Kolbe*, 13 Luhanyo Am*, 12 Damian de Allende*, 11 Makazole Mapimpi*, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Faf de Klerk*, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Franco Mostert*, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Lood de Jager*, 4 Eben Etzebeth (leader)*, 3 Frans Malherbe*, 2 Bongi Mbonambi*, 1 Steven Kitshoff*.
Protectorates: 16 Malcolm Marks*, 17 Thomas Du Toit, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RJ Sneeman*, 20 Peter Steve Du Toit*, 21 Duane Vermeulen*, 22 Grant Williams, 23 Manny LeBoc.