South Africa on Wednesday brought back big guns such as Willie le Roux and Duane Vermeulen to tackle Samoa in the World Cup on Saturday in eight changes to the team stunned by Japan.
Despite being criticised for the age of the side that lost 34-32 to Japan last Saturday, coach Heyneke Meyer has named an even more experienced line-up with a new record 891 caps between them for the Samoa Pool B game in Birmingham.
“The last few days have been a time for retrospection and the team this week has been selected specifically with Samoa in mind, as we know we’ll have to be at our very best to succeed,” Meyer said.
“They will pose a massive challenge and I think it’s fair to say that it’s the biggest game of the season for us. They have a very strong team with players plying their trade all over the world,” he added.
Captain Jean de Villiers, 34, escaped the cull despite calls in South Africa for him to be replaced. He will move to outside centre. Hooker Bismarck du Plessis, 31, was dropped however, although 38-year-old lock Victor Matfield was retained.
Three players nominated for the World Rugby player of the year award over the last two years – Eben Etzebeth, Vermeulen and Le Roux – were all recalled to the starting lineup.
Adriaan Strauss, who will win his 50th cap, is the starting hooker. Vermeulen will make his first Test appearance of the year in the No.8 jersey. He had neck surgery in July.
“Duane has been one of the stalwarts of this team and it’s great to have him back in the mix,” said Meyer.
“He is one of the best loose forwards in the world and apart from being a superb ball-carrier and also a great line-out option, he is also good on the ground and brings leadership to the team.”
Le Roux, JP Pietersen and Damian De Allende return in the backline and Handre Pollard and Fourie du Preez will form a new halves pairing as Meyer made five changes in his backs.
In the pack, Etzebeth is one of three changes to the starting line-up with Vermeulen and Strauss. On the bench, Schalk Brits, 34, and Frans Malherbe make their first appearances on a Rugby World Cup teamsheet.
“It’s been a very tough week after the massive disappointment of last weekend and we owe our supporters a winning performance on Saturday,” said Meyer.
“Four years ago in the World Cup pool match in New Zealand, the Samoans pushed the Boks close and we’re expecting more of the same this weekend. It will be brutally physical and we have to be 100 per cent focused and ready,” the coach added.
Meyere said he was looking for “energy and unpredictability” in the team.
“It means some players have dropped out of the squad altogether but this is a 31-man campaign and they will have other chances, but we needed to make changes after Saturday’s performance.”
Of those who started the match against Japan, fullback Zane Kirchner, centre Lwazi Mvovo, back-rower Pieter-Steph du Toit and hooker Du Plessis all failed to make the 23.
Having worn the number nine and ten jerseys against Japan, Ruan Pienaar and Pat Lambie will start on the bench.
The Springboks have won all eight previous meetings with Samoa.
SOUTH AFRICA (15-1):
Willie Le Roux; JP Pietersen, Jean De Villiers (capt), Damian De Allende, Bryan Habana; Handre Pollard, Fourie Du Preez; Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Burger, Francois Louw; Victor Matfield Eben Etzebeth; Eben Etzebeth, Jannie Du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Tendai Mtawarira. Res: Schalk Brits, Trevor Nyakane, Frans Malherbe, Lodewyk De Jager, Siya Kolisi, Ruan Pienaar, Pat Lambie, Jesse Kriel.