Springboks host the All Blacks in Nespruit in Round 1 with both eager to get the season off to a winning start.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber made three changes to his starting team that ran out for their final Test against Wales for their opening Castle Lager Rugby Championship fixture against New Zealand in Nelspruit, where Malcolm Marx will earn his 50th Test cap.
Marx will run out at hooker in place of Bongi Mbonambi, while Faf de Klerk comes in at scrumhalf in a rotational switch with Jaden Hendrikse. The only injury-enforced change is on the right wing, where Kurt-Lee Arendse will earn his second Test cap in place of Cheslin Kolbe, who is recovering from a broken jaw.
Both Mbonambi and Hendrikse will play off the replacements bench, where the only other change is the inclusion of Salmaan Moerat (lock) in the place of Elrigh Louw (loose forward).
“One of the changes to the starting team were injury-enforced with Kurt-Lee coming in for Cheslin, and with Malcolm, we feel it is a big occasion to play one’s 50th Test so it will be good for him to start, while we believe Faf’s experience and style of play will complement our game against the All Blacks,” said Nienaber.
“These changes resulted in direct swaps to the bench for Bongi and Jaden, and with Salmaan covering lock we can either use Franco (Mostert) at lock or flanker, and we have Kwagga (Smith) who can also provide cover in the loose trio and even on the wing if needs be.”
Nienaber added: “We played two Tests with a similar team in the Castle Lager Incoming Series, and we feel this is the right squad for this specific challenge against New Zealand.
“The All Blacks are strong all around and they will come to Nelspruit desperate to avenge their series defeat against Ireland and to prove that they remain one of the powerhouses in world rugby, so we believe experience and physicality will be vital in this Test.”
Nienaber spoke highly of Marx as he faces the important career milestone of 50 Test caps: “We are very proud of Malcolm’s achievement, and we wish him all the best for the game. He is a true warrior, and he epitomises what we stand for as the Springboks.
“But as we said with the recent milestones of Eben (Etzebeth) and Bongi (Mbonambi), we are preparing for a challenging Test which will be vital in setting the tone for our Castle Lager Rugby Championship campaign this year and that is our focus.
“The occasion will be so much more special for Malcolm if we win the Test, and the entire team need to do their best so that he can look back at this occasion with good memories.”
Nienaber anticipates the All Blacks to come out guns blazing in their opening two matches at the Mbombela Stadium (Saturday, 6 August) and at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg (13 August) and said they are expecting an equally big onslaught to that which they faced against them in the past.
“The Springboks and All Blacks have a unique rivalry, and we always bring the best out of one another,” said Nienaber.
“They will play a different style of rugby to Wales, and we have been preparing for that, and like many of the northern hemisphere teams, their set pieces are strong, and they have fantastic skills in their backline, so we’ll have to be at our best to register a win.
“That said, we had our review of the Wales Tests and we know where we need to improve, and last week’s training camp in Hazyview allowed us to focus on those areas of our game.
“This week our focus is more on New Zealand and the areas of the game that we feel will be vital to give us the best possible chance to start the series on a positive note, and we’ve been working hard on that, and we will continue doing so in the build-up to the match.
“New Zealand have always tested us to the limit, and it will be no different in the next two weeks.”
The last meeting was on Australia's Gold Coast in 2021 when Springboks won 31-29
All Blacks head coach Ian Foster has unveiled the match-day 23 for the opening Lipovitan-D Rugby Championship Test against South Africa at Mbombela Stadium.
Samisoni Taukei’aho has been named in the run-on side at hooker, alongside tighthead prop Angus Ta’avao in a new-look front row. New faces make up the front-row cover, with Tyrel Lomax and Ethan de Groot named for the first time in the 2022 international season.
The tight five welcome back lock Scott Barrett from injury, while Akira Ioane retains his spot at blindside flanker in the loose forward trio, alongside captain Sam Cane and Ardie Savea.
Another feature of the run-on side is the return of winger Caleb Clarke. Ruled out of the Steinlager Series due to injury, the 23-year-old will play in his first All Blacks Test since 2020.
“What a great way to start this year’s Lipovitan-D Rugby Championship. It’s always an exciting tournament to be part of,” Foster said. “This year’s draw means we have a massive challenge of two games here in the South Africa.
“We have settled in well in Mbombela and are preparing for what is always an intense game against our old foe.
“Many of our squad are here in South Africa for the first time. This gives us another opportunity to add new experiences and grow our game.”