The Springboks opening Northern Hemisphere Test didn’t go according to plan, failing to beat Ireland in Dublin – a match, while difficult, should have been won by Heyneke Meyer’s men.
As a result, the Springbok coach has rung in some changes for the squad, as Rugby World Cup winners JP Pietersen and Schalk Burger will start Saturday’s second Test of the tour against England at Twickenham.
The five changes to the team are straight swaps between the starting line-up and the bench. Along with Pietersen and Burger, Meyer has handed starts to hooker Adriaan Strauss and the halfback pair of Cobus Reinach and Pat Lambie.
Cornal Hendricks, Handré Pollard, Francois Hougaard, Teboho Mohoje and Bismarck du Plessis will start on the bench.
“We’ve accepted our performance against Ireland last weekend was not up to scratch and everyone in the touring squad has put up their hands and dug deep this week,” said Meyer. “We’ve really worked hard at fixing the mistakes we made and the challenge is now to put that into action on Saturday.”
Meyer said the changes were not a knee-jerk reaction following the result in Dublin, but rather in line with rotational changes that he had in mind before the start of the tour.
Strauss, Lambie and Pietersen all started in the Springboks’ last Test at Twickenham, two years ago, while Saturday’s match will be Reinach’s first in the starting team.
“Pat started at Twickenham for us two years ago and did very well,” said Meyer. “He’s playing well at the moment and I wanted to give him the opportunity to start. Pat is tactically very astute and even though he’s still pretty young, he’s got a lot of experience.
“Adriaan, Schalk and JP have all started a number of Tests this year and they will slot in easily – we decided beforehand that we wanted to start all of these players in one of the first two Tests on tour.
“It’s a big occasion for Cobus but he would not have been here if we didn’t believe he could deliver the goods, and he’ll be next to his provincial team-mate in Pat.
“As usual, we’re also expecting our replacements to raise the intensity when they’re sent on and Bismarck, who had a very good game in Dublin especially in the set-pieces, ‘Oupa’, Francois, Cornal and Handré will provide important cover off the bench.”
As for England, Anthony Watson will start his first international for England, and one which will be as daunting as ever, coming up against Bryan Habana on the wing.
Watson replaces Bath Rugby teammate Semesa Rokoduguni in the only change to the starting line-up from the match against New Zealand, the 20 year-old handed a chance to build on his cameo appearance from the bench in last weekend’s 24-21 defeat.
A prolific graduate of the England age-group system who was part of the 2013 Junior World Championship-winning side, he can also draw confidence from this summer’s tour to New Zealand.
Underlining his burgeoning potential and finishing ability, he scorched over for a try in the 38-7 midweek win over the Crusaders. Watson’s promotion means Harlequins flyer Marland Yarde, who has scored four tries in five international appearances thus far, comes onto the bench.
Elsewhere in the run-on XV, Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes (both Northampton Saints) successfully completed the graduated return to play protocol. They are named to start and will take part in today’s training session, while scrum half Danny Care will become the squad’s second half-centurion after Hartley.
England coach Stuart Lancaster said: “Anthony has been pushing hard for a while and has been in impressive form for Bath and in training with us. “It was great that he got on against New Zealand and we feel he is ready to start. Equally, it’s good to have Marland back in the match-day 23.
“Congratulations to Danny Care who will be winning his 50th cap. It’ll be a special moment for him and I am sure he will rise to the occasion.”
England are on a run of four consecutive defeats and have not overturned the Springboks in 11 matches stretching back to 2006. Still, Lancaster highlighted the determination and diligence that has characterised this week’s preparation.
“I know the players are looking forward to the challenge,” he added. “South Africa have quality and experience across the park and it will be a big test for us.”
England – 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Brad Barritt, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Danny Care, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 David Wilson, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler. Subs: 16 Rob Webber, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 George Kruis, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 George Ford, 23 Marland Yarde.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Beast Mtawarira. Subs: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Bakkies Botha, 20 Teboho Mohoje, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Cornal Hendricks.