DHL Stormers star Schalk Burger will make his return to the international fold after two and a half years out, after being named on the Springbok bench for Saturday’s meeting with the star-studded World XV at DHL Newlands (17h00).
Aside from Burger’s selection on the bench, Cornal Hendricks, South Africa’s Sevens Player of 2013, will make his international debut for in the 15-man code next to ten players who started in the Springboks’ final Test of 2013.
The speedy Hendricks is the only newcomer in the team as Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer opted for continuity in his team’s first match of the year, with DHL Stormers ace Duane Vermeulen starting in the No.8 position.
The old firm of Bakkies Botha and interim captain Victor Matfield are re-united in the second row. JP Pietersen moves to outside centre. Burger makes a return to the side for the first time in two and a half years, whilst Frans Steyn, Schalk Brits, Lwazi Mvovo and Johan Goosen are also back after playing no Test rugby last year.
The five players who started in the 19-10 win over France in Paris last November but are not in the starting team this week, are the injured Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie and Eben Etzebeth, as well as Flip van der Merwe and Coenie Oosthuizen, who will both start on the bench.
“It’s positive to have this kind of continuity in our first start of the year,” said Meyer on Wednesday.
“Even though we’ll be starting with a new midfield combination, Frans and JP have both played more than 50 Tests for the Boks and with Bryan Habana also in the backline, Cornal will start with a lot of experience around him.
“We’re expecting a stern test on Saturday against the World XV and our mindset is to make our nation proud – it should never be anything else when the Springboks play. It will also be a good way to start the season before our first Test next week against Wales, but for now we’re only focused on the World XV and playing well.
“Our aim for the season is to accelerate and make a step up from 2013. To put ourselves in a position to do that, we simply have to start well.”
Of the 23 in action on Saturday, 13 featured in the victory in Paris. One of the new faces is Matfield, who has been named captain with De Villiers out injured during the Castle Lager Incoming Series this month. It will be the 100-times capped lock’s first match in the Green & Gold since the Rugby World Cup in 2011.
Meyer said it was pleasing to see Matfield and Botha re-united, while he was also very excited about the prospects of Hendricks on the wing, Pietersen at outside centre and the return of Burger, Brits and Steyn.
“If anyone told me two years ago that Victor and Bakkies would play together again for the Boks, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. They have been great servants of the game in South Africa and now have the opportunity to take it further.
“We’re also keen to see what JP can offer at outside centre, where he’s played very well for the Cell C Sharks earlier in his career and for his club in Japan.
“Cornal is a player I’ve been following for some time and I thought he made a very good transition from sevens to the 15-man code earlier this year. He’s big and very fast, and hopefully we’ll be able to provide him with some space to attack in. The Springbok Sevens can be very proud of the way in which they aided in his development to a top-class player.
“Frans and Schalk Brits are both special players with the X-factor and it’s wonderful to have them back. Their attitude has been superb and I know they can add a lot in the coming weeks. Lwazi has been great for the Cell C Sharks this year and I believe he can make an impact later in the match, while I’ve always rated Johan and it’s good to see him getting back to his best.
“This was a tough team selection to make and a couple of players were unlucky to miss out, but I know all of them will keep on pressing hard for selection in the weeks to come. I always like it if players in the team must make it easy for me to leave them in, and players outside the team must make it difficult to leave them out.”
The Springbok team to face the Samsung-sponsored World XV in Cape Town is:
15. Willie le Roux
14. Cornal Hendricks
13. JP Pietersen
12. Frans Steyn
11. Bryan Habana
10. Morné Steyn
9. Ruan Pienaar
8. Duane Vermeulen
7. Willem Alberts
6. Francois Louw
5. Victor Matfield (captain)
4. Bakkies Botha
3. Jannie du Plessis
2. Bismarck du Plessis (vice-captain)
1. Tendai Mtawarira
16. Schalk Brits
17. Gurthrö Steenkamp
18. Coenie Oosthuizen
19. Flip van der Merwe
20. Schalk Burger
21. Fourie du Preez
22. Johan Goosen
23. Lwazi Mvovo
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa), Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
TMO: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)