Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth will make a notable return from a shoulder injury as the captain of the team to face New Zealand in the second Castle Lager Rugby Championship Test in Auckland on Saturday.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber named 10 of the 14 players who travelled to New Zealand a week ago to acclimatise to the conditions and time zone in his matchday squad – nine of whom will start, including locks Etzebeth and Lood de Jager and the loose trio of Kwagga Smith, Franco Mostert and Jasper Wiese.
Malcolm Marx, who was also a member of the advance travelling contingent, will provide cover at hooker off the bench.In the backline, wings Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe also receive starts, along with centre Damian de Allende, who will reunite in the Rugby World Cup winning midfield combination with Lukhanyo Am.
Fullback Willie le Roux, Am, Damian Willemse (flyhalf) and the front row of Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe (both props), and Bongi Mbonambi (hooker) will all start after participating in the season-opener against the Wallabies last weekend, which the Springboks won 43-12.Nienaber again opted for a six-two split on the replacements bench in favour of the forwards, which mainly comprised players who featured against Australia, including No 8 Duane Vermeulen, lock RG Snyman and two backs in flyhalf Manie Libbok and Grant Williams, who can provide cover at scrumhalf and wing.
“We planned to select a squad with a few key combinations of players who are fully acclimatised and settled in in New Zealand, while also selecting some players who started last week, and we are pleased with the balance we were able to strike with this squad,” said Nienaber.
“This allows us to give some players their first taste of international rugby this season alongside a group of players who come off a physical clash against the Wallabies, and we believe this will be beneficial against a top opponent in the All Blacks. The fact that we can give a few other players in the bigger squad a run this weekend is fantastic as we want to give as many players as possible game time with an eye on doing well in the Castle Lager Rugby Championship and further ahead in the Rugby World Cup,” noted Nienaber.
Of Etzebeth’s return, Nienaber said: “Eben has been working very hard in the last few months to make a full recovery from his shoulder injury and it’s great to see him return to the field in this important fixture. He’s a vastly experienced player with 110 Test caps, he’s captained the Springboks before and he has been with the group of players in New Zealand for over a week, so he is the ideal person to lead the team this weekend.”
Looking forward to the clash against the All Blacks, Nienaber expected the Boks to face a thorough test all around. “New Zealand have a strong pack of forwards and dangerous backs, and they showed last week what they can do when they have the space to convert their chances into points. We need to deliver a strong performance in all departments and our defence needs to be solid against them. This is an important match for both teams with each team only playing three games in the competition this season Nienaber concluded.