Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber has explained why he went with Elton Jantjies at flyhalf ahead of Handre Pollard, and why Damian Willemse got the nod over Willie le Roux.
Durban – Bok coach Jacques Nienaber raised eyebrows on Tuesday when he picked Elton Jantjies at flyhalf ahead of Handré Pollard and Damian Willemse in place of Wille le Roux at fullback but he insists he has gone for the best options for this first Test against Wales.
In terms of Pollard, Nienaber intimated that his late arrival from duty with French champions Montpellier counted against him, and once having opted to go with Jantjies, that meant he needed flyhalf cover on the bench and that would explain Le Roux not starting.
Pollard only arrived on Sunday in the Bok camp in Johannesburg after winning the Top 14 final with Montpellier last Friday while Jantjies has been in the camp for a month and thus is far better prepared for this Test than Pollard could hope to be in less than a week of training.
“There is nothing sinister about our selections. We want to select players we coach during the week, and the guy who has been training is obviously in the better position,” the coach explained before adding that there is a wider plan to ultimately used all 42 players that are now in the camp over the three Tests against Wales and then two Rugby Championship matches against New Zealand in August.
“We have boxes we want to tick and there is a plan for all 42 players — they know what the plan is and it can change because of injuries or if we don’t have performance,” he said. “If things go our way on the field, our plan will play out over the next few weeks.”
Nienaber said that this team selection had been extremely difficult and it has been a delicate balancing act.
“This team has a balance between guys who have not trained over the last three weeks and those who have, and also a balance between those with experience and those who haven’t.
There is a bigger plan and this week’s team is the best team we can pick in terms of balance and there is a massive responsibility on the 23 for this week to lay a foundation and to ensure there is performance because if that does not happen, then things will change, but if all goes well all 42 will eventually play.”
The uncapped players in the match 23 are Bulls loose forward Elrigh Louw and Stormers lock Salmaan Moerat, who are both former Junior Springbok players and have made a consistent impact for their respective franchises over the past few seasons.
“We have a fantastic crop of young players who have really been working hard at training and putting up their hands, and it is pleasing for us as coaches to give Salmaan and Elrigh this opportunity,” Nienaber said.
“Salmaan was with us on our tour to the UK last season, and despite being so young he brings a different sense of experience as a former Junior Springbok and SA Schools captain, while Elrigh also featured in a World Rugby U20 Championship and has been playing senior provincial rugby for a while.
“That said, we are looking forward to seeing what Salmaan and Elrigh have to offer if they get the opportunity to take the field.”
Nienaber is expecting a tough Test against Wales, saying they will give everything as they look to turn things around following a disappointing Six Nations campaign.
“Wales have been training together for a few weeks now and we have no doubt that they will give everything against us on Saturday,” said Nienaber.
“They are an experienced squad, and they have top-class players in their ranks — some of whom represented the British and Irish Lions last year — so we are expecting a hard grind of a Test.
“They have physical forwards and backs that spark something from nothing, so we need to deliver a quality performance in order to get our season off to a strong start.”
Springboks – 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Franco Mostert, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Elrigh Louw, 21 Kwagga Smith, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Willie le Roux.