Experienced lock Eben Etzebeth was on Wednesday named as Springbok captain for Saturday’s first Rugby Championship match against Australia in Johannesburg, while Rynhardt Elstadt (loose forward) and Herschel Jantjies (scrumhalf) will both make their Test debuts on the Highveld.
The game is the first in the Springboks’ shortened 2019 Castle Lager Rugby Championship campaign, which also consists of away matches against New Zealand and Argentina.
Etzebeth takes over the captaincy from regular skipper Siya Kolisi, who is recovering from a knee injury, while Aphiwe Dyantyi was also not considered for selection because of a hamstring injury. It will be Etzebeth’s 12th Test as Bok captain.
Elstadt (Toulouse, France) and Jantjies (DHL Stormers) are the only two uncapped players in the starting team, while Lizo Gqoboka (prop, Vodacom Bulls) is also set to earn his debut off the bench.
Elstadt is picked at No 6 flank in a loose trio that also includes the experienced duo of Pieter-Steph du Toit (No 7, 46 caps) and No 8 Francois Louw (65 caps). Jantjies, will play alongside the 33-cap Elton Jantjies (flyhalf) in a new-look halfback combination.
On the bench there is also a return to the Bok fold for a number of familiar faces as Erasmus casts his net wide with the 2019 Rugby World Cup squad in mind. They are Ulster loose forward Marcell Coetzee, Cobus Reinach (Northampton Saints, scrumhalf), the mercurial Frans Steyn (Montpellier, utility back) and Dillyn Leyds (DHL Stormers, utility back).
The Springbok pack for Saturday’s match on the Highveld is hugely experienced, sharing 394 caps, and is expected to the lead the charge against the wily Wallaby forward unit. Etzebeth has 75 caps to his name, his lock partner Lood de Jager is set to make his 39th appearance while Tendai Mtawarira has already played in 107 Tests.
Rassie Erasmus, the SA Rugby Director of Rugby, said he and the Springbok team are excited for the start of the international season.
“The squad have trained together for more than three weeks and this match is important for us to start a very important rugby year,” said Erasmus.
With the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan looming, Erasmus said each of the three Rugby Championship matches was vital.
“We want to win the Castle Lager Rugby Championship and we have a specific plan, which starts Saturday with the first Test against the Wallabies,” said Erasmus.
“We have planned to mix things up in the first two Tests of the season, in order to give game time to as many of the players in our wider squad, and we believe this is the right combination to face a very good and competitive Australian side.
“We are excited for the forthcoming year and I want to congratulate Rynhardt, Herschel and Lizo on their first inclusion in a Springbok match-day squad, while the leadership role is not something new for Eben. The build-up has been good and there is definitely a very good vibe for match.
“Australia have prepared very well for this match and they have spent two weeks at altitude to acclimatise to the Highveld, so we are in for a great contest,” added Erasmus.
The Springbok team to Australia in Johannesburg: