DURBAN – South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer named three debutants on Wednesday in his starting XV for the first test against England in Durban on Saturday.
Locks Juandre Kruger (26) and Eben Etzebeth (20) and flank Marcell Coetzee (21) will make their first test appearances against England while replacement prop Coenie Oosthuizen is also in line for his first test cap.
Despite the newcomers, the Springbok team chosen to play England boast a combined 458 caps. Nine players are retained from South Africa’s last match, a World Cup quarter-final defeat to Australia last year.
Kruger and Etzebeth have the huge task of replacing former captain Victor Matfield and his second-row partner Bakkies Botha but Meyer said he was confident that they would rise to the challenge.
“It’s quite a new thing for South Africa to have two uncapped locks starting. It will be a huge step up for them and they need to prove that they can play at this level,” Meyer told a news conference.
“Marcell Coetzee has played great rugby the whole year and I believe he will be a superstar in years to come. They have all proved themselves in Super Rugby and I am confident that all three will acquit themselves well,” he added.
Hooker Bismarck du Plessis was named as the team’s vice-captain.
“I believe that Bismarck is a great leader and I’m very happy with what I’ve seen with him,” Meyer said. “He brings something different to the party.”
However, Meyer, who will be in charge of South Africa for the first time on Saturday, added that at some point during the test against England Du Plessis would be replaced by Adriaan Strauss who would take over the vice-captaincy role.
Meyer has some knowledge of England’s players, having coached club side Leicester in late 2008 and early 2009.
He said he was impressed by the England team under Stuart Lancaster which finished second in this year’s Six Nations despite it being Lancaster’s first series in charge.
“England put a lot of emphasis on scrummaging, the same as us, and that will be a tough battle. I think there are a lot of similarities in the two team’s game plans.
“England showed a lot of mental toughness to come through the first three games of the Six Nations unbeaten. They did not have a lot of time to prepare and they got stronger as the competition went on. The one thing that stood out about them was their mental toughness and character.”
The second test of the series is in Johannesburg on June 16 with the third and final test in Port Elizabeth on June 23.
Team: 15 – Zane Kirchner, 14-JP Pietersen, 13-Jean de Villiers (capt), 12-Frans Steyn, 11-Bryan Habana, 10-Morne Steyn, 9-Francois Hougaard, 8-Pierre Spies, 7-Willem Alberts, 6-Marcell Coetzee, 5-Juandre Kruger, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Jannie du Plessis, 2-Bismarck du Plessis, 1-Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16-Adriaan Strauss, 17-Coenie Oosthuizen, 18-Flip van der Merwe, 19-Keegan Daniel, 20-Ruan Pienaar, 21-Pat Lambie, 22-Wynand Olivier.