Rookie lock Juandre Kruger insists he is not daunted by the sizeable task that awaits him when he makes his Springbok debut against England in Durban on Saturday.
The Bulls forward was on Wednesday named by new coach Heyneke Meyer in his maiden Test starting XV for the three-match series, along with two other uncapped players – Stormers lock Eben Etzebeth and Sharks flank Marcell Coetzee.
It is a rare occasion that any South African team would field two new faces in the second row, with the situation having come about following the retirement of Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha.
Matfield has retired from the game, while Botha now plays his rugby in France after the pair played together in a world-record 62 Tests starting together at lock.
Kruger and Etzebeth now face the difficult task of filling those boots, but Kruger is confident they can step up to the plate.
“The most important thing is preparation and we’ve had a great week building up to this first match,” the 26-year-old said on Thursday.
“There's been a lot of intensity a lot of hunger from the guys.
“The drills have been excellent and the systems have all been similar to that of the past.
“I've got a huge responsibility in the lineouts, but in the same way all those around me also have a responsibility of their own.
“We are confident we can go out there and do the job on Saturday.”
Kruger started his career with Western Province, before moving to the Bulls and then on to Northampton in England for two seasons.
After returning to the Bulls in 2010, he had to wait until this season for his Super Rugby debut, with last season spent in the shadow of Botha and Matfield.
He admits that his tutelage under the ex-Bulls skipper was invaluable.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Victor, he’s been a legend of the game,” Kruger said.
“He’s played a massive role in developing me as a player, the way I’m thinking and analysing the opposition.
“So I’ll always be thankful for the work he’s put in and his willingness to share.”
Asked whether his partnership with Etzebeth had the makings of a Botha-Matfield one, Kruger quickly played down any such ideas.
“I think the main focus is on this weekend and not looking too far ahead,” he said.
“They’ve been great players. It’s all in coach Heyneke’s hand to decide who will be his locks.”
He also praised Etzebeth’s quick rise in South African rugby after the 20-year-old moved swiftly from university rugby last year to the world stage inside 12 months.
“He's proved himself in Super Rugby. He definitely deserves his chance,” Kruger added.
“We played against each other twice this season and he’s been exceptional in his play.” – Sapa