Peter de Villiers cited the fact that they ‘want to try a few things out’ as the reason for his five-two bench split for the World Cup opener against Wales on Sunday.
It is the first time in the five Tests De Villiers has coached against Wales that he has opted for that split. The composition means potential game breakers Gio Aplon, Pat Lambie and Juan de Jongh watch from the stands.
Francois Hougaard is likely to be utilised as a wing should scrumhalf Fourie du Preez not be injured in the course of the match. Hougaard has the capacity to galvanise the side upon his introduction. Butch James doesn’t possess his dynamism, but his tactical intelligence, game management, distribution and temperament are important for the Springboks.
Including two props could be considered as overly cautious, especially with CJ van der Linde able to alternate between loosehead and tighthead. You can only assume De Villiers is braced for a level of attrition in the heavies that demands a forward-laden bench. This despite Wales’ potency in that facet of play being diluted through a string of injuries to key forwards.
Probed on the make-up of his bench De Villers said: ‘You like to play to your strengths and that’s the reason we went for that. We know what we want to achieve out of this game and the make-up of the bench actually goes for that. The first game, there are a few things we want to try out. I believe we’ve got a really strong bench.’
De Villiers’ offering intimating experimentation follows an earlier statement that he was unsure of his best combinations. Whether he has settled on the split as being his strongest remains to be seen, but an educated guess would be that his hand was forced by the injury to Bakkies Botha. Danie Rossouw would usually be able to cover the second row and loose forward positions, allowing De Villiers the option of an extra backline player on the wood.
On the issue of Botha, who has sustained an Achilles injury that is rumoured to be more serious than the Springbok medical team will admit, De Villiers said: ‘Bakkies will always be a tough call. Victor [Matfield] and Bryan [Habana] were always going to be there. But with Bakkies, it’s a long tournament and we’ll assess him again today and tomorrow.’
Meanwhile, skipper John Smit said he was relieved that match-day was nearing. ‘It’s taken ages to get to this and it’s also pretty weird playing on Sunday,’ Smit said. ‘Today’s announcement for us on a Friday is really a Thursday in a Test week, so in a couple more days we’ll get to feel the fever a little bit.
‘We’ll watch the opening match and a couple of games this weekend and by the time it gets to Sunday the boys will pretty well know what their purpose is.’
Despite the Springboks being the defending champions, it is the All Blacks who have commanded the most media attention in New Zealand.
‘We don’t have any problem with that at all. We’re delighted that the cameras are shying away from us,’ Smit said. ‘It’s par for the course at the moment that the team that’s playing the best rugby are hosting the tournament, so I think it’s well deserved.’
Springboks – 15 Frans Steyn, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Gurthro Steenkamp, 18 CJ Van der Linde, 19 Johann Muller, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Butch James.
By Ryan Vrede, in New Zealand
Follow Ryan’s World Cup coverage on Twitter