DHL Stormers ace Duane Vermeulen will make something of a home-coming this weekend when he lines up at No.8 for the Springboks against Wales at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit (kick-off 15h00).
The WP Rugby powerhouse missed out on last year’s first-ever Springbok Test in Nelspruit because of injury but he will now win his 18th cap for his country on Saturday – having first played for South Africa in 2012.
“I grew up here and I know most of the people and it’s nice to hear and see that the people are coming out in their numbers to watch this Test – I’m looking forward to it,” Vermeulen told the national media earlier this week.
“It’s a massive occasion, hopefully it turns out to be a good one too,” added Vermeulen, one of two DHL Stormers in the Bok matchday squad for this week – the other being fellow loose forward Schalk Burger.
Victor Matfield, meanwhile, will on Saturday become the most-capped Test player in the history of South African rugby when he leads the Springboks against Wales in his 112th Test match.
Matfield made his Test debut on June 30, 2001 against Italy in Port Elizabeth. He retired after the Rugby World Cup in 2011 on 110 caps, but made a highly successful return to the game earlier this year.
“This is a fantastic accolade for Victor,” said Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer on Wednesday.
“He has been a terrific servant of the game in South Africa and has led his country with distinction since returning to the Green and Gold.
“When he returned to the game earlier this season, he set his goals on becoming a Springbok yet again and he’s worked extremely hard to get there. I don’t think anyone can doubt that he deserves his place in the team and he’s also been a great interim captain, with Jean de Villiers out injured.”
Matfield, who is also the most-capped Vodacom Super Rugby player in South Africa, will captain a Springbok starting line-up which shows two changes from the team which beat Wales by 38-16 in Durban last week.
Both changes are in the pack, where Tendai Mtawarira returns at loosehead prop, with Gurthrö Steenkamp reverting to the bench, whilst Flip van der Merwe will partner Matfield in the second row in the place of Bakkies Botha.
The only other change to the team is amongst the backline reserves, where Wynand Olivier replaces the injured Johan Goosen to provide necessary midfield cover. Ruan Pienaar will provide back-up for scrumhalf and flyhalf, whilst Lwazi Mvovo can cover fullback and wing.
Commenting on the team selection, Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said it was an easy decision to stick with the core of the team which beat the Welsh last weekend in Durban.
“I’ve always preferred to stick with a winning combination and the changes to the team were both part of our planning,” said Meyer.
“The backline really performed well last weekend and we would like to give them another opportunity to play together, as there were a number of new combinations.
“The same applies up front. Bakkies is fit for selection, but we decided to manage his workload this week and I know Flip, who has been outstanding in the last two seasons, will slot back in easily. The same goes for Beast, who upped the tempo with his work-rate last weekend.”
Meyer is expecting another tough challenge from Wales this week, adding: “They’ve had another week together and will be keen to lift their game on Saturday, but at the same time we were not happy with certain aspects of our game and we’ve worked hard to rectify that.”
“This is their last match of the season, so we’re expecting them to come out firing. But we also want to make a step up and ensure we keep on improving as the season progresses.”
The Springbok team to face Wales in Nelspruit is:
15. Willie le Roux
14. Cornal Hendricks
13. JP Pietersen
12. Jan Serfontein
11. Bryan Habana
10. Morné Steyn
9. Fourie du Preez (vice-captain)
8. Duane Vermeulen
7. Willem Alberts
6. Francois Louw
5. Victor Matfield (captain)
4. Flip van der Merwe
3. Jannie du Plessis
2. Bismarck du Plessis (vice-captain)
1. Tendai Mtawarira
16. Schalk Brits
17. Gurthrö Steenkamp
18. Coenie Oosthuizen
19. Lood de Jager
20. Schalk Burger
21. Ruan Pienaar
22. Wynand Olivier
23. Lwazi Mvovo
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Francesco Pastrana (Argentina)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)