Salmaan Moerat and Elrigh Louw are in line to make their Springbok debuts from the replacements bench against Wales in Saturday’s opening Test at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, with head coach Jacques Nienaber opting for a settled squad as they target a strong start to the season.
Moerat, who was a member of the Springbok touring squad for last season’s UK tour, and Louw have been stand-out performers for the Stormers and Bulls respectively in the United Rugby Championship this season, and given their fine form for their franchises, Nienaber will be expecting them to make a big impact off what is a strong bench for the match.
Damian Willemse will start at fullback and Elton Jantjies at flyhalf in a backline featuring several familiar faces, including wings Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe, centres Lukhanyo Am and Damian de Allende and scrumhalf Faf de Klerk.
In the front row, Frans Malherbe and Ox Nché will pack down on either side of Bongi Mbonambi (hooker), Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager will join forces at lock, and Springbok captain Siya Kolisi will form a loose trio with Franco Mostert and Jasper Wiese. Am will serve as vice-captain for the match.
With a physical onslaught expected from Wales, Nienaber opted for a six-two split on the replacements bench, with Herschel Jantjies (scrumhalf) and veteran fullback Willie le Roux providing cover among the backs, while the forwards comprise the impactful front row of Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff and Vincent Koch, along with Moerat, Louw and versatile loose forward Kwagga Smith.
“We have a talented group of players and we believe the matchday 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.”
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 last few seasons – an opportunity to start on the bench.
“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,” Nienaber said.
“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.
Damian Willemse, Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, Jasper Wiese, Franco Mostert, Siya Kolisi (captain), Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nché
Bench: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Salmaan Moerat, Elrigh Louw, Kwagga Smith, Herschel Jantjies, Willie le Roux