With the conclusion of a Rugby World Cup comes a new era of international Test rugby, as many stalwarts move on to greener (and often colder) pastures up north to soak up their twilight years and work out how to order food in a foreign language. It does also mean that a new generation of younger players get their time in the limelight in hopes of developing something special over the course of the next four years.
There’s a very apparent feeling of that taking place this weekend, when South Africa take on Ireland at Newlands to kick off the international Test series between the two nations.
The Springboks, armed with a new coach and an exciting squad of young players, will be hungry to prove themselves following a somewhat underwhelming World Cup, up against an Irish side who were also unsatisfied with their Six Nations endeavour.
In terms of team news, Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has named a relatively untested side with a combination of newcomers and familiar faces – bringing something that the Springboks have been needing for years – the element of unpredictability.
Faf de Klerk is the only uncapped player in the starting XV, who gets his chance to shine on the international stage following consistent standout performances for the Lions in Super Rugby. De Klerk is feisty, smart, quick, and should offer a solid delivery platform for Pat Lambie, who takes on the No. 10 jersey. Lionel Mapoe also gets his first start at outside centre, and while he has 1 cap for the Boks, he essentially gets his real first-taste of Springbok rugby on Saturday following impressive consecutive Super Rugby seasons. Mapoe is an exciting prospect who has the ability to tear apart the best of defences.
Adriaan Strauss will become the 57th player to lead out the Springboks as captain, with the 30-year old Bulls hooker playing in his 55th Test for his country. Strauss will pack down in the middle of the front row between Tendai Mtawarira, who has earned 75 Bok caps, and Frans Malherbe. Coetzee picked Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth as his lock pairing, while the loose trio consists of Francois Louw, Siya Kolisi and the experienced Duane Vermeulen.
Amongst the backs, Coetzee opted for an experienced all-Sharks back trio of Willie le Roux, JP Pietersen and Lwazi Mvovo. Lions outside centre Lionel Mapoe earns his second Bok cap and partners Damian de Allende in an exciting midfield. A total of eight players in the run-on team started in the Springboks’ previous Test, last October, when the Boks defeated Argentina 24-13 in London to clinch the bronze medal the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
As evidence with his time at the Stormers, Coetzee has always believed in a strong, explosive bench to clinch games, and the same approach has been taken here. Warren Whitely, Jesse Kriel, Elton Jantjies, Trevor Nyakane, and Pieter-Steph du Toit (despite pulling a hamstring less than a week ago) line the woodwork and will likely add some serious impetus after the 60-minute mark.
As for Ireland, Rory Best captains the side and is joined in the front row by Jack McGrath and Mike Ross. Devin Toner and Iain Henderson pack down in the second row with Jordi Murphy named at openside, CJ Stander at blindside flank and Jamie Heaslip at No.8.
Conor Murray and Paddy Jackson are the half-backs while Luke Marshall lines out at inside-centre with Robbie Henshaw playing at outside-centre. Jared Payne is named at fullback with Andrew Trimble and Keith Earls on the wings. The replacements named are Sean Cronin, Finlay Bealham, Tadhg Furlong, Ultan Dillane, Rhys Ruddock, Kieran Marmion, Ian Madigan and Craig Gilroy.
The Springboks are fielding a match-day 23 with a mix of experience and youth, and while clichéd, looks to be a solid and confident-inducing start for Cotezee’s tenure as Springbok coach.
The Irish have traditionally been quite similar to South Africa in their approach in recent years – a strong combination of forward and set-piece dominated play, complimented by some opportunistic backline play.
The clash should be an exciting barometer for the speed and style of both sides going forward with their respective gameplans, but the Springboks’ homeground advantage, superior forward pack, and unpredictability should put the Irish on the backfoot throughout the majority of the match.
Head-to-head to watch: Faf de Klerk vs Conor Murray
Prediction: Springboks by 12.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Warren Whiteley, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Jesse Kriel.
Ireland – 15 Jared Payne, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best (2), 1 Jack McGrath.
Subs: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Finlay Bealham, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Craig Gilroy.
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