The wholesale changes to the Springboks are understandable, but Saturday’s Test against the Pumas could be as close as the final Test was against the British & Irish Lions. This is a victory that is by no means a given, writes Mark Keohane.
It is not so much who has been picked to tame the Pumas, but who isn’t playing.
The following players are either injured or rested for this Test after the physical and mental demands of a three-Test series against the British & Irish Lions, preceded with an unofficial ‘fourth’ Test when an SA ‘A’ side beat the Lions 17-13.
This is who isn’t playing: Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Makazole Mapimpi, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk, Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Steph du Toit, RG Snyman, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi and Steven Kitshoff.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber had no choice but to juggle his squad selections and rest the core of the starting team that inspired a come from behind 2-1 series win against the Lions, with the Boks also fighting back from trailing at half time in the second and third Tests.
Nienaber has challenged those players, second in the pecking order, to step up, and asked for one more shift from his captain courageous Siya Kolisi, the colossal Eben Etzebeth and the machine that is Franco Mostert. Lood de Jager gets a second successive start, having made his return from a lengthy injury lay-off in the final two Tests against the Lions, while Jasper Wiese gets one more opportunity to impress at No 8 and Cobus Reinach starts at scrumhalf.
Kolisi and the lock pairing of Etzebeth and De Jager and the versatility of Mostert ensures the Boks maintain a hardened edge up front, and among the backs it is a combination of experience and youth in a revamped Bok match 23, which shows 11 changes to the squad that downed the Lions 19-16 in the third and final Test.
It’s a team that had to play at some stage of the Rugby Championship and giving them the first-up task will immediately give Nienaber a sense of the tournament squad depth and what the gulf is between his preferred starting XV and the next best.
The Boks have to play Argentina twice, the Wallabies twice and the All Blacks twice, with the last four Tests to be played in Australia over a period of six weeks.
Nienaber has repeatedly said the Rugby Championship would be about squad rotation, building Test experience for the 2023 Rugby World Cup and managing the work load of players, and that he believed it was possible to achieve those goals and still defend the title the Boks won in 2019. They did not play the Rugby Championship in 2020 because of Covid.
It is going to be a huge ask to beat a confident and in-form Pumas side, who drew and won successive Tests against Wales in the past month.
French-based hooker Joseph Dweba is the only uncapped player and the squad depth among the props is highlighted with the inclusion of Harlequins’ Wilco Louw and Sharks Ox Nche.
Of the match-day 23, 13 players are 2019 World Cup-winning survivors.
— Springboks (@Springboks) August 10, 2021