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Coach Heyneke Meyer is backing Keegan Daniel’s “X-factor” to give the Springboks an edge when they host Argentina in the first round of the Rugby Championship at Newlands on Saturday.
“In Super Rugby, Keegan was outstanding against some of the best packs, like the Chiefs, and he was awesome against the best defensive team, the Stormers,” Meyer said after naming Daniel as the replacement for injured No 8 Pierre Spies to face the Pumas.
“Pierre is one of the most experienced players in the squad, so losing him is a big setback, but Keegan was maybe the form No 8 in Super Rugby this year.”
Spies was on Tuesday ruled out for up to three months with a fractured ring finger on his left hand, suffered during the Super Rugby play-off clash against the Crusaders last month, and the absence of the athletic Bulls back row forward marks this Bok Test pack as the first one to be devoid of a Bulls player since Victor Matfield made his starting debut in 2001.
Daniel will make his first Test start this week and Meyer admitted he had contemplated alternatives before settling on the Sharks skipper. “I considered playing Jacques Potgieter at blindside flanker with Willem Alberts at No 8, but Keegan has been playing well, knows the rest of the pack and he’s really been putting up his hand,” said the Bok coach.
“What Keegan brings to the table is that he’s got X-factor. He needs to prove he can play at this level, but what you lose in physicality (with Daniel at No 8) you gain in X-factor, he creates things.
“There are six loose forwards not available,” Meyer said, refering to the injured contingent of Spies, Schalk Burger, Juan Smith and Heinrich Brüssow, while Ryan Kankowski is on club duty in Japan and Duane Vermeulen will make his return from a long-term knee injury for Western Province this week.
“And if you look at the pack, there’s only one player left from the side that started in the World Cup (prop Jannie du Plessis), so it’s a pretty inexperienced pack.”
It’s a rare occurrence that both teams boast the same number of Test caps (432) and it talks to the rebuilding job facing Meyer this season minus a host of World Cup winners who have moved on. The Bok coach has consequently opted to show faith in the combinations that performed well during the Super Rugby competition.
“All of the loose forwards in the team have been playing great rugby, but I thought that the Sharks pack did really well in Super Rugby so I wanted to keep some continuity there – the front row and loosies are Sharks and the second row are Stormers.”
Stormers prodigy Eben Etzebeth has been cleared to start at No 4 and he will be joined by provincial partner Andries Bekker, who makes his first start for the Boks since June of 2010.
For more, see page 46