Nelspruit - Don’t fear when Flip is near ... the Springboks will have to do without veteran Bakkies Botha this weekend, but in Flip van der Merwe they have a more than capable replacement.
Botha will sit out the second Test against Wales on Saturday after picking up an Achilles and calf muscle injury last weekend, but the man replacing him will no doubt provide the Welsh with as much to think about as if they’d been facing Botha.
Van der Merwe is champing at the bit after missing the first Test in Durban last weekend because he attended his brother’s wedding and he said yesterday he was keen to get stuck in.
“I’ve missed quite a bit of Super Rugby this year and I also missed out last week, so I’m fresh and ready to go,” he said with a big smile.
“I had some quality family time, but it’s good to be back.
“Every game in the Springbok jersey is a big thing and there’s definitely some heartache on a Saturday when you don’t play. Last week the butterflies were about the speech I had to make and not about running on for the Springboks ... I’ve missed playing in the Bok jersey and every Test you miss is a big one.”
Van der Merwe will join Bulls teammate Victor Matfield in the Bok second row in one of two changes to the starting team that played last weekend. The other is in the front row where Beast Mtawarira replaces Gurthrö Steenkamp.
Bok boss Heyneke Meyer said there was no question about Van der Merwe playing this week.
“Bakkies could have played, but we felt he needed a break. To be honest this is the most tired I’ve seen my players at this stage of the season. They were stuffed at the end of last year, but now they’re feeling really tired.
“We needed to freshen up the side, but without losing continuity. Flip will be fresh, so that’s good for us. We’ll also make changes next week, to rest a few more players.”
Lodewyk de Jager will again play off the bench after a strong debut in Durban where he made the most tackles of any of the Boks - 15 tackles in the 40 minutes he was on the field. “I thought Lodewyk was very good and right now I’m happy with the lock pairing. There’s no point in taking a chance with Bakkies.”
Besides the changes at lock and prop, on the bench Wynand Olivier comes in for the injured Johan Goosen. It is a fairly strange decision by Meyer considering the former Bulls man, who’s now based in France, wasn’t even part of the initial squad and the likes of S’bura Sithole, JJ Engelbrecht and Paul Jordaan are young players with bright futures ahead of them.
Meyer explained that in Goosen’s absence, Olivier covered both centre positions as well as flyhalf. “I’m a little worried about Jan Serfontein, who hurt his shoulder last weekend so in Wynand we’ve got a player who covers 12 and 13. Most of Wales’ set plays go through the 12, 13 channel so we needed someone with experience if called upon to go onto the field. Wynand also covers 10, and we’ve also got Ruan Pienaar.”
Meyer said he would have considered bringing Marnitz Boshoff into the side, but the Lions man has struggled with an injury all week and only started running with his team-mates on Tuesday.
Springboks starting XV: Willie le Roux, Cornal Hendricks, JP Pietersen, Jan Serfontein, Bryan Habana, Morné Steyn, Fourie du Preez, Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Victor Matfield (capt), Flip van der Merwe, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira
Replacements: Schalk Brits, Gurthrö Steenkamp, Coenie Oosthuizen, Lodewyk de Jager, Schalk Brits, Ruan Pienaar, Wynand Olivier, Lwazi Mvovo