Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has included the uncapped quartet of Andries Coetzee, Raymond Rhule, Courtnall Skosan and Ross Cronje in his starting team for Saturday’s first Test in the Castle Lager Incoming Series against France at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, while a fifth uncapped player, Dillyn Leyds, is on the bench.
No 8 Warren Whiteley will become the 58th Springbok captain when he leads the Boks onto the field on Saturday and Cronje will become South Africa’s 50th Test scrumhalf on Saturday.
Also in the match-day squad is the experienced and versatile Frans Steyn, the 2007 Rugby World Cup winning centre, who is back in the Springbok squad for what will be his first Test for South Africa since September 2012, when he played against the All Blacks in Dunedin. He last played a match for the Boks in 2014, against the World XV in Cape Town.
The new-look Springbok match-23 has only seven survivors from the team that played against Wales at the end of last November – four of those players are starting on Saturday, namely Whiteley, Elton Jantjies, Franco Mostert and Tendai Mtawarira, while Pieter-Steph du Toit, Bongi Mbonambi and Steven Kitshoff also played in Cardiff.
Coetzee has opted for combinations in key positions, with Jantjies playing alongside his Emirates Lions team-mate Cronje, the Vodacom Bulls’ Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel in the midfield and the Johannesburg-duo of Andries Coetzee and Skosan in the back trio, where they will be joined by Rhule, who will earn his first start although he was previously a member of the Springbok touring squad.“We have gone for settled combinations and selected players for the starting fifteen who have trained well with us,” explained Allister Coetzee.
“They are in good form so far this season and they will be battle-ready. It is a great opportunity for our uncapped players to cement their places in the team.”
Coetzee also pointed to this week’s good preparations in Pretoria, despite the injury setbacks which ruled out the trio of Duane Vermeulen, Damian De Allende and Lionel Mapoe, who is in his final phase of rehabilitation.
“Duane is a world-class player and it’s a real pity he is out injured. However, I believe he needs rest after a long and very hard season in Europe. He has a few niggles and I am sure the time off will do him the world of good,” said Coetzee.
“I am excited about our loose trio combination. Siya Kolisi has played at openside for the Springboks and the DHL Stormers and I know he will be able to do the job for us. Oupa Mohoje has good ball carrying abilities, he is an excellent lineout option and I think the combination will complement each other. On the bench we have a young and exciting player in Jean-Luc du Preez whom I sure will make a big impact.”
Coetzee predicts a massive forward battle: “The set-piece will always be very important against any European side. However, our set piece was one of the positives in 2016 and I believe we will build on that. We prepared well and are looking forward to Saturday.”
Mtawarira will extend his record as the most-capped Springbok prop to 87 appearances. He is the third-most experienced Springbok forward with only Victor Matfield and John Smit having played more Test matches for the Boks. It will be his 25th successive Test for the Boks, which equals the record held by Ollie le Roux between 1998 and 1999.
Apart from Vermeulen (shoulder injury), De Allende (quad contusion) and Mapoe, several other candidates such as Pat Lambie, Handré Pollard, Francois Louw, Roelof Smit, Marcell Coetzee and Rohan Janse van Rensburg were all not considered due to various injuries.
The total number of Test caps for the Springbok starting line-up is 265. There are 54 caps in the backline and 211 amongst the forwards, while the total on the bench is 151 caps.
The Springbok team to face France in Pretoria:
15. Andries Coetzee (Emirates Lions), 0 caps, 0 points
14. Raymond Rhule (Toyota Cheetahs), 0, 0
13. Jesse Kriel (Vodacom Bulls), 17, 15 (3t)
12. Jan Serfontein (Vodacom Bulls), 26, 10 (2t)
11. Courtnall Skosan (Emirates Lions), 0, 0
10. Elton Jantjies (Emirates Lions), 11, 78 (12c, 18p)
9. Ross Cronje (Emirates Lions), 0, 0
8. Warren Whiteley (Emirates Lions, captain), 15, 15 (3t)
7. Oupa Mohoje (Toyota Cheetahs), 15, 0
6. Siya Kolisi (DHL Stormers), 16, 0
5. Franco Mostert (Emirates Lions), 7, 0
4. Eben Etzebeth (DHL Stormers), 54, 10 (2t)
3. Frans Malherbe (DHL Stormers), 15, 0
2. Malcolm Marx (Emirates Lions), 2, 0
1. Tendai Mtawarira (Cell C Sharks), 87, 10 (2t)
16. Bongi Mbonambi (DHL Stormers), 5, 0
17. Steven Kitshoff (Bordeaux-Bègles, France), 10, 0
18. Coenie Oosthuizen (Cell C Sharks), 23, 15 (3t)
19. Pieter-Steph du Toit (DHL Stormers), 20, 15 (3t)
20. Jean-Luc du Preez (Cell C Sharks), 1, 0
21. Francois Hougaard (Worcester Warriors, England), 39, 25 (5t)
22. Frans Steyn (Montpellier, France), 53, 132 (10t, 5c, 21p, 3d)
23. Dillyn Leyds (DHL Stormers), 0, 0
Interesting facts and milestones:
· The first Test match between South Africa and France took place in Bordeaux on 11 January, 1913. South Africa, captained by Billy Millar, won the match 38-5, scoring nine tries in the process, which, to date, is still a Springbok match record for tries against France.
· This Test match will be the third match at Loftus Versfeld between the two countries. The previous two, in 1975 and 1980, were comfortably won by South Africa with a combined score of 70-33.
· South Africa’s record against France at home: P: 21; W: 10; L: 6; D: 5; PF: 438; PA: 322; Win%: 48%.
· This encounter will be the Boks’ 40th Test match against France.
· South Africa’s overall record against France: P: 39; W: 22; L: 11; D: 6; PF: 783; PA: 578; Win%: 56%.
· The total Test caps for the Springbok starting line-up is 265. There are 54 caps in the backline with 211 caps amongst the forwards. On the bench there are a further 151 caps.
· The average caps per player in the backline are eight, the forwards 26 while the players on the bench average 19.
· The average age of the starting 15 is 26.
· The tallest player in the squad is Eben Etzebeth (2.04m) and the shortest Elton Jantjies and Bongi Mbonambi (1.76m). The heaviest players are Frans Malherbe and Steven Kitshoff (125kg) and the lightest players are Andries Coetzee, Ross Cronjé and Dillyn Leyds (85kg).
· In the starting 15, only Kolisi, Etzebeth and Mtawarira have previously played against France.
· Frans Steyn last played a Test for the Springboks in September, 2012. That match was against New Zealand in Dunedin.
· Warren Whiteley is South Africa’s 58th Springbok captain. The 14th Springbok captain from the Golden Lions.
· The following Test debutants will receive Springbok numbers as follows: Ross Cronjé #882; Courtnall Skosan #883 and Andries Coetzee #884. Should Dillyn Leyds be used as a substitute his Springbok number will be #885. Raymond Rhule has not played in a Test match before, but he earned his Springbok number (#845) in 2012 while touring with the Springboks to Ireland, Scotland and England.
· Elton Jantjies needs 22 points to reach 100 points in Test rugby.
· Frans Steyn needs 18 points to reach 150 points in Test rugby.