Bok coach makes bold selectionsComment on this story
Pretoria – Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer continues to make bold selections, naming three, relatively untried combinations for the team's Rugby Championship opener against Argentina, in Pretoria, on Saturday.
In his debut for the national side, Western Province centre Damian de Allende will form a midfield combination with Springbok captain Jean de Villiers for the game at Loftus Versveld.
De Villiers, fully recovered from a knee injury, is one of three returning Springboks – together with prop Frans Malherbe and lock Eben Etzebeth – who played no part in the June internationals.
“Damian really impressed me in Super Rugby. I like his mental toughness, and he also has skilful attributes,” Meyer said.
“Working with him over the last few weeks, I've really been impressed by his soft touches. He is a big guy but runs beautiful lines and he is good enough to get the ball away.
“We haven't settled on an outside centre yet. Jean can play there and Damian is a great inside but I just felt, with Handre Pollard playing, Jean's best position is at inside where he is closer to the contact and can make the calls.”
De Allende had been impressive playing at inside centre for his franchise over the last two seasons but would be playing out of position, outside De Villiers.
In another surprise selection, rising star Pollard would earn his second Test cap, ahead of Morne Steyn, where he would combine with scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar.
“Handre has shown some great touches in the last Test match and I felt we needed to find the next guy. You can't go into a tough tournament with just one flyhalf and there is not a lot of time before the world cup,” Meyer said.
“Morne is always there, I know what he can do, but it is more a question of giving Handre a chance.”
The third untried duo would see Lood de Jager wearing the number-five jersey ahead of Etzebeth, who would make his return to the green and gold off the bench.
De Jager replaced Victor Matfield, who was carrying a knee injury, and would form a second-row combination with lock stalwart Bakkies Botha.
“We also felt that although Lood is a typical number-four jumper and player, he could be groomed to play five as well.
“He is a very intelligent player and probably one of the most improved players I've coached over the last month. I think he's got an unbelievable future.
“I've really been impressed by Lood and he's learned a lot and has been enthusiastic learning from Victor.”
Flanker Willem Alberts and prop Beast Mtawarira would also make their return to the national side, after missing the Scotland Test in Port Elizabeth.
With the Boks winning quicker ball at the breakdowns, Meyer emphasised the need for South African scrumhalves to be fast when cleaning the ball.
“We need to play at a higher tempo if we want to be the best team in the world, as well as in Super Rugby. It starts with the breakdown where we need to get quicker ball,” Meyer said.
South African team: Willie le Roux, Cornal Hendricks, Damian de Allende, Jean de Villiers (captain), Bryan Habana, Handre Pollard, Ruan Pienaar, Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Lood de Jager, Bakkies Botha, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira Replacements: Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Marcell Coetzee, Francois Hougaard, Morne Steyn, Jan Serfontein – Sapa