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Vermeulen leads Bok team against Pumas

Springbok No 8 Duane Vermeulen will lead a new-look Bok team in their final Castle Lager Rugby Championship match against Argentina at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg on Saturday in what could be the competition decider depending on the result between New Zealand and Australia in Melbourne.

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber made nine changes to the starting team that went down 35-20 against the All Blacks in Auckland two weeks ago, with the squad featuring a new halfback pairing of flyhalf Manie Libbok and scrumhalf Grant Williams. This will mark Williams’ first start for the team.

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Nienaber also rotated his loose forwards with the trio of Vermeulen and flankers Pieter-Steph du Toit and Marco van Staden, who started the opening match of the competition against the Wallabies, returning to the run-on team.

The other changes to the pack of forwards were at hooker, where Malcolm Marx takes over from Bongi Mbonambi, and lock, where Marvin Orie comes in for Lood de Jager.

In the backline, meanwhile, wing Kurt-Lee Arendse – who scored a hat-trick against Australia – will start in place of Makazole Mapimpi, while experienced centre Jesse Kriel will make his first appearance of the season in the midfield alongside vice-captain Damian de Allende.

Nienaber opted for a five-three split on the bench in favour of the forwards, which includes prop Trevor Nyakane, who will provide an impact with Mbonambi, Vincent Koch (prop), RG Snyman (lock) and Kwagga Smith (loose forward).

The three backs on the bench are Faf de Klerk (scrumhalf), Lukhanyo Am (centre), and the versatile Damian Willemse.

Grant Williams will start his first Test for South Africa on Saturday.

Grant Williams will start his first Test for South Africa on Saturday.

“This is a quality team that will offer us the skills we need against Argentina,” said Nienaber. “It also contains a good balance of experience and youth, which is vital as we build toward the Rugby World Cup.

“There are only four more matches before we kick off our Rugby World Cup campaign so it’s a fine balancing act to give all the players a chance to stake a claim for places while selecting teams that we believe are best equipped for the opposition we’ll face, and we’re pleased with the way we’ve managed that process up to now.

“Obviously the result in New Zealand was bitterly disappointing, but we came into the season with a plan that will hopefully allow us to select the best possible squad for the World Cup and peak at the right time.”

Nienaber said the team was resolute on bouncing back from their defeat against the All Blacks and to finish the Castle Lager Rugby Championship on a high note. He warned, however, that his charges had to fire from starting whistle, especially given the massive physical onslaught they expected from Argentina.

“The Pumas showed in their last two games that they can be a force to be reckoned with, so we have to be sharp from the get-go, be accurate in our execution on attack and defence, and use the opportunities we create,” said Nienaber. “They pride themselves on their set pieces, they are very dangerous at exploiting your mistakes, and they never stop fighting which makes them a challenging opponent.

“But that said, we know where we went wrong in our last match, and we are determined to correct the wrongs from that day and get our season back on track.

“We are anticipating a hard-fought battle and we know we need to be focused for the full 80 minutes, but we are ready to go out there and give everything.”

Malcolm Marx could equal a Springbok record on Saturday.

Malcolm Marx could equal a Springbok record on Saturday.

Nienaber said the fact that the match would mark their last on home soil this year made the match even more significant for the team.

“We saw in 2019 how passionate the nation is about the Springboks and hopefully we can make this a good send-off for the team,” said Nienaber.

“The support we have enjoyed at Emirates Airline Park in the past has been phenomenal, and although we know our Castle Lager Rugby Championship hopes of are out of hands at the moment, it would be a memorable day if things go our way, and the match proves to be a decider.”

Springbok team to face Argentina in Johannesburg:
15 – Willie le Roux (Vodacom Bulls) – 85 caps, 65 pts (13t)
14 – Cheslin Kolbe (Suntory Sungoliath) – 24 caps, 81 pts (12t, 3c, 5p)
13 – Jesse Kriel (Canon Eagles) – 59 caps, 60 pts (12t)
12 – Damian de Allende (Panasonic Wild Knights) – 71 caps, 45 pts (9t)
11 – Kurt-Lee Arendse (Vodacom Bulls) – 8 caps, 50 pts (10t)
10 – Manie Libbok (DHL Stormers) – 5 caps, 19 pts (8c, 1p)
9 – Grant Williams (Cell C Sharks) – 3 caps, 0 pts
8 – Duane Vermeulen (captain, SA Rugby) – 67 caps, 15 pts (3t)
7 – Pieter-Steph du Toit (Toyota Verblitz) – 68 caps, 30 pts (6t)
6 – Marco van Staden (Vodacom Bulls) – 11 caps, 0 pts
5 – Marvin Orie (DHL Stormers) – 12 caps, 0 pts
4 – Eben Etzebeth (Cell C Sharks) – 111 caps, 20 pts (4t)
3 – Frans Malherbe (DHL Stormers) – 60 caps, 5 pts (1t)
2 – Malcolm Marx (Kubota Spears) – 60 caps, 75 pts (15t)
1 – Steven Kitshoff (Ulster) – 73 caps, 10 pts (2t)

Replacements:
16 – Bongi Mbonambi (Cell C Sharks) – 58 caps, 60 pts (12t)
17 – Trevor Nyakane (Racing 92) – 59 caps, 5 pts (1t)
18 – Vincent Koch (Cell C Sharks) – 43 caps, 0 pts
19 – Kwagga Smith (Shizuoka Blue Revs) – 32 caps, 20 pts (4t)
20 – RG Snyman (Munster) – 25 caps, 5 pts (1t)
21 – Faf de Klerk (Canon Eagles) – 47 caps, 44 pts (5t, 2c, 5p)
22 – Lukhanyo Am (Cell C Sharks) – 33 caps, 30 pts (6t)
23 – Damian Willemse (DHL Stormers) – 29 caps, 36 pts (2t, 4c, 4p, 2d)

Springbok record against Argentina

Played 34; Won 30; Lost 3; Drawn 1; Points for: 1 193, Points against: 657; Tries scored 140, Tries conceded 62; Highest score 73-13; Biggest win 60 points. Win % 88%.

Milestones:

  • Eben Etzebeth has played in 19 Tests against the Pumas and becomes the first Springbok to play in 20 Test matches against Argentina.
  • Etzebeth will surpass former Springbok captain and hooker John Smit’s 111 Test caps on Saturday, making him the fourth most capped Springbok.
  • Malcolm Marx needs one try to equal Schalk Burger’s record of 16 Test tries, the most by a Springbok forward.
  • Grant Williams will earn his first Test start.

Miscellaneous:

  • The total Test caps for the Springbok starting line-up is 718.
  • There are 256 caps in the backline, with 462 caps among the forwards. On the bench there are a further 326 caps.
  • The average caps per player in the backline is 36, the forwards 57, while the players on the bench average 40.

Rugby, Springboks, 2023, Argentina

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