South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber is treating Saturday’s rematch with Australia in Sydney as “a final” for his injury-ravaged side as they strive to stay in Rugby Championship contention.
The world champions started slowly and then failed to convert pressure into points against the Wallabies in Adelaide last weekend, crashing 25-17 for their second straight tournament defeat.
It left them propping up the table at the midway point with just one win from three games. Argentina surprisingly lead the way, with Australia a close second and the All Blacks third.
“This week is a final for us to stay in the competition and we are expecting Australia to be just as desperate, but so are we,” said Nienaber.
“We let ourselves down in the last two games and we are determined to rectify that this week and change our fortunes in Australia.”
The Springboks continue to search for a first win on Australian soil since 2013 and Nienaber has made eight changes to the starting line-up for the sold-out clash at Sydney’s newly built Allianz Stadium, among them scrum-half Faf de Klerk.
Four are injury-enforced with influential fly-half Handre Pollard and centre Lukhanyo Am among the casualties.
“It’s always unfortunate to lose players in a squad but this opens the door for other players to step in and showcase what they can do in those positions,” said the coach.
Damian Willemse moves from fullback to fly-half, with the experienced Jesse Kriel slotting in at centre and talented young back Canan Moodie debuting on the right wing in a positional switch with Warrick Gelant, who moves to the bench.
Veteran Willie le Roux takes Willemse’s place at fullback in his 77th Test, with the other backline change at scrumhalf, where Jaden Hendrikse replaces De Klerk. He was axed from the 23.
Prop Steven Kitshoff and hooker Malcolm Marx start in a new-look front row with Frans Malherbe. Jasper Wiese takes over at No.8 from veteran Duane Vermeulen, who is among the replacements.
Wary of the wounded
Australia are chasing back-to-back wins for the first time this season but are wary of their wounded opponents.
The hosts start with an unchanged side for the first time since Dave Rennie took over as coach from Michael Cheika — now at the helm with Argentina — in late 2019.
James Slipper once again captains the side as they look to extend their unbeaten streak against the Springboks to nine games.
Slipper will play his 121st Test, equalling Michael Hooper, who is on mental health leave, and former teammate Adam Ashley-Cooper.
The only two Australian players with more caps are George Gregan (139) and Stephen Moore (129).
“It’s great to be able to have some consistency in selection with the team that played last week earning the right to wear the jersey again in Sydney,” said Rennie.
“While rapt with last week’s effort, we’re well aware of the challenge a wounded Springbok poses and the intensity we will require again on Saturday night.”
The 22-year-old Noah Lolesio was retained as playmaker after his mature performance last weekend, with the ever-improving combination of Hunter Paisami and Len Ikitau outside him in the centres.
Veteran Reece Hodge stays at fullback, while Adelaide man-of-the-match Marika Koroibete and Tom Wright are again on the wings with Nic White at scrum-half.
Rennie gave hooker Folau Fainga’a another chance despite his poor lineout throwing a week ago, joined in the front row by long-time ACT Brumbies teammates Slipper and Allan Ala’alatoa.
Second-rowers Rory Arnold and Matt Philip round out the tight five with Jed Holloway, Adelaide two-try hero Fraser McReight and Rob Valetini in the back row.
Australia: Reece Hodge; Tom Wright, Len Ikitau, Hunter Paisami, Marika Koroibete; Noah Lolesio, Nic White; Rob Valetini, Fraser McReight, Jed Holloway; Matt Philip, Rory Arnold; Allan Alaalatoa, Folau Fainga’a, James Slipper (capt)
Replacements: David Porecki, Scott Sio, Taniela Tupou, Darcy Swain, Rob Leota, Pete Samu, Jake Gordon, Andrew Kellaway
South Africa: Willie le Roux; Canan Moodie, Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi; Damian Willemse, Jaden Hendrikse; Jasper Wiese, Franco Mostert, Siya Kolisi (capt); Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth; Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: Deon Fourie, Ox Nche, Trevor Nyakane, Kwagga Smith, Duane Vermeulen, Cobus Reinach, Frans Steyn, Warrick Gelant