Erasmus names squad loaded with Rugby World Cup (RWC) experience for Ireland showdown

Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus named an experienced squad featuring 20 Rugby World Cup-winners – the entire starting 15 and five players on the replacements’ bench – for their opening Castle Lager Incoming Series Test against Ireland at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday, in what is expected to be a humdinger of an encounter between the top two ranked teams in the world.

The three players in the match-day 23 who did not participate in the international spectacle in France, where the Springboks claimed their second successive RWC title, are Gerhard Steenekamp (prop), Salmaan Moerat (lock) and Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu (utility back), who are elevated to a selection featuring a six-two bench split in favour of the forwards.

Twelve of the starting XV for Saturday’s showdown (six forwards and six backs) started in the 12-11 RWC final victory over New Zealand, with the other three (Willie le Roux, Kwagga Smith and Ox Nche) coming off the bench in the final.

The selection of previously unavailable players means that the team shows eight changes to the one that defeated Wales by 41-13 in London 10 days ago as Erasmus welcomed back captain Siya Kolisi, Le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Handre Pollard, Marco van Staden, RG Snyman and Steenekamp.

“This is the team we believe will give us the impetus we need against Ireland, who are the second highest ranked team in the world,” said Erasmus.

“We are blessed to have a lot of depth in our squad, and we are in a fortunate position to have several Rugby World Cup-winners in our ranks who know what it takes to perform at the highest level and play against the best teams in the world.

“The fact that most of these guys have played together is a bonus for us, and most of them have faced Ireland before so they are well aware of the challenge that lies ahead, especially since we haven’t beaten them since 2016.”

Erasmus said he was in a fortunate position to be able to call on so much Rugby World Cup winning experience: “It’s great to be in such a position, and while it may serve as a mental boost, Ireland are a quality outfit and they’ll come out guns blazing. This is a new year for us with new systems in place, so while it certainly helps that most of the players have won a World Cup or two, this is a fresh chapter for us.”

Erasmus said he was excited to see what dimension Steenekamp, Feinberg-Mngomezulu and Moerat would bring to the game – in what will mark Steenekamp and Feinberg-Mngomezulu’s second Test matches – and said: “Gerhard made a strong statement in the front row against Argentina in Buenos Aires last year and we were equally pleased with how easily Sacha slotted in and the contribution he made against Wales.

“Sacha, similarly to Grant (Williams), also offers us additional options in the backline, as he can cover flyhalf and centre, while Grant is efficient at scrumhalf and wing, which places us in a good position with the six-two split.

“Salmaan, in turn, may only have a few Test caps, but he’s a former Junior Springbok captain, he captained the DHL Stormers, and like Sacha, he came through our Elite Player Development (EPD) system, so they have been exposed to the way we do things at this level for some time now.

“This match will test their skills, but they are all quality players, in whom we have full faith, and it doesn’t get better to experience that against a team like Ireland.”

Erasmus expected a physical onslaught from the visitors in front of a sold-out Loftus Versfeld crowd and said it would be a full-out battle for 80 minutes.

“Ireland have had the upper hand over us in the last few years and they will certainly want to build on that on Saturday,” said Erasmus. “That said, we have a good idea of what to expect from them, especially after the World Cup last year.

“They have a few new players in their ranks this year, but so do we and that contributes to the excitement for the match. They are a physical team that never give up, but the margins between the teams are fairly small, so it’s going to be an intense battle and one that will require a resolute performance for the full 80 minutes.”

Springbok team to face Ireland at Loftus Versfeld:

15 – Willie le Roux (Vodacom Bulls) – 93 caps, 75 pts (15t)

14 – Cheslin Kolbe (Suntory Sungoliath) – 31 caps, 91 points (14t, 3c, 5p)

13 – Jesse Kriel (Canon Eagles) – 67 caps, 80 points (16t)

12 – Damian de Allende (Wild Knights) – 78 caps, 55 points (11t)

11 – Kurt-Lee Arendse (Vodacom Bulls) – 15 caps, 65 points (13t)

10 – Handré Pollard (Leicester Tigers) – 69 caps, 698 points (7t, 96c, 152p, 5dg)

9 – Faf de Klerk (Canon Eagles) – 56 caps, 50 points (5t, 5c, 5pg)

8 – Kwagga Smith (Shizuoka Blue Revs) – 41 caps, 35 pts (7t)

7 – Pieter-Steph du Toit (Toyota Verblitz) 78 caps, 40 points (8t)

6 – Siya Kolisi (captain, Racing 92) – 83 caps, 50 points (10t)

5 – Franco Mostert (Honda Heat) – 74 caps, 15 points (3t)

4 – Eben Etzebeth (Hollywoodbets Sharks) – 120 caps, 30 points (6t)

3 – Frans Malherbe (DHL Stormers) – 70 caps, 5 points (1t)

2 – Bongi Mbonambi (Hollywoodbets Sharks) – 69 caps, 70 points (14t)

1 – Ox Nche (Hollywoodbets Sharks) – 28 caps, 0 pts

Replacements:

16 – Malcolm Marx (Kubota Spears) – 65 caps, 85 points (17t)

17 – Gerhard Steenekamp (Vodacom Bulls) – 1 cap, 0 points

18 – Vincent Koch (Hollywoodbets Sharks) – 50 caps, 5 points (1t)

19 – Salmaan Moerat (DHL Stormers) – 4 caps, 0 points

20 – RG Snyman (Leinster) – 34 caps, 10 points (2t)

21 – Marco van Staden (Vodacom Bulls) – 18 caps, 0 pts

22 – Grant Williams (Hollywoodbets Sharks) – 9 caps, 10 points (2t)

23 – Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu (DHL Stormers) – 1 cap, 7 points (2c, 1p)

Stats and facts:

Springbok record against Ireland:

Played 28, Won 18, Lost 9, Drawn 1. Points for: 530; Points against: 412. Tries scored: 72; Tries conceded: 38. Highest score: 38; Biggest win: 38 points (38-0). Average score: 19-15. Win %: 64.2%.

Miscellaneous:

Only two players in the forward pack – Ox Nche and Kwagga Smith – have fewer than 69 Test caps.
Only one player in the backline has fewer than 30 Test caps, namely Kurt-Lee Arendse.
Only three players in the team were not members of the RWC-winning squad (Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, Salmaan Moerat, Gerhard Steenekamp).
Willie le Roux needs only six Test caps after Saturday’s match to join the select club of Springbok centurions.
The total Test caps for the Springbok starting line-up is 966, the second most experienced team ever selected by South Africa after the 987-capped side for the RWC final last year.
There are 403 caps in the backline, with 563 caps among the forwards. On the bench there are a further 182 caps.
The average caps per player in the backline is 57, the forwards 70, while the players on the bench average 22.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of South African Rugby.

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