Cardiff – Heyneke Meyer was very clear on one thing when he fronted a horde of Welsh journalists at Wednesday’s Springbok team announcement at the plush Hilton Hotel in the Cardiff CBD: “We will never be happy with being the second-best team in the world. That is like kissing your sister. We are here to win every game and to improve. We will never stop working on every aspect of our game.”
Meyer is clearly intent on closing the gap on the All Blacks while never losing sight of the danger that each Test match presents, and the team he has picked to play Wales addresses both concerns. He has brought straight back into the starting line-up experienced backs in Jaque Fourie and JP Pietersen, while giving the in-form and versatile Patrick Lambie a chance to state his case at fullback.
Zane Kirchner has been adequate at fullback in the Rugby Championship without ever being inspiring and he drops out of the match-23 altogether, with Willie le Roux covering fullback and wing from the bench.
At tighthead prop, the injury to Jannie du Plessis opens the door for the promising Frans Malherbe to show that he is next in line, and promoted to the bench is another uncapped player in lock Pieter-Steph du Toit, who Meyer wants to blood and then start against Scotland next week.
Meyer also clarified the position of veteran Bakkies Botha, who has been controversially recalled but is not in the match-23. “Bakkies only arrived late Tuesday night (from his club Toulon) and with lineouts so complicated these days, you can’t just slot a guy in,” Meyer said. “Bakkies will probably start next week against Scotland. I want to see what he can still bring to the party.”
But it is the selection of Lambie at fullback that has taken many pundits by surprise. The 23-year-old mostly warmed the bench during the Rugby Championship before returning to Currie Cup action for the Sharks and playing a starring role at flyhalf in their victories in the semi-final and final.
“Pat has been playing good rugby and I want to use this tour to get him going again at international level,” Meyer said. “Off the bench this year, he has shown very good signs at fullback. I had a discussion with him and he is very happy to play at 15, but that does not mean he is not in my plans as a flyhalf. He will also get a chance to play in that position on this tour.
“At the World Cup, it is invaluable to have players that are good in more than one position. And for this match, he is the best choice for these conditions. He is very safe under the high ball and adds something different on attack.”
Alongside Lambie will be Japan-based pair Pietersen and Fourie, with the former earning his 49th cap after a year-long absence and the latter notching up cap No 70 after last playing for the Boks at the last World Cup.
“To put it bluntly, JJ Engelbrecht and Willie le Roux have not been dropped because of form, and will get to play on tour. I just want to see what the others can still do,” said Meyer.
Malherbe said he has all the inspiration he needs for his debut in fellow front-rankers Bismarck du Plessis and Beast Mtawarira.
“Bismarck is probably the best hooker in the world. It has been great to work with him and he has been giving me a lot of tips that I would not have thought of,” he said.
“I feel very privileged to make my debut in a rugby stronghold such as the Millennium Stadium. There are few better places to play rugby than Wales in Cardiff. My mother and my sister are on the way. It is a tremendously exciting time for me,” Malherbe said.
15 Pat Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Flip van der Merwe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira. Bench: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 JJ Engelbrecht, 23 Willie le Roux.
* Jean de Villiers will extend his record as the most-capped Springbok centre with 78 Tests. He will also be the captain for the 22nd time in a row and will draw level with Dawie de Villiers in fourth place on the list of Bok captains, behind John Smit (83), Gary Teichmann (36) and Francois Pienaar (29).
* Bryan Habana will extend his record as the most-capped Springbok wing with 91 Tests and if he scores a try, will extend his record of 53 Test tries for South Africa.
* If he takes to the field, Pieter-Steph du Toit will become the second Springbok whose grandfather also played for South Africa. His granddad Piet (Spiere) du Toit played 14 Tests from 1958 to 1961. Francois Louw’s grandfather Jan Pickard played four Tests from 1956-1958.\