Springboks: Five selection talking points including the new midfield and Bomb Squad

Springboks: Split image with Orie, Esterhuizen and Roos Credit: Alamy
Springboks: Split image with Orie, Esterhuizen and Roos Credit: Alamy

Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber has made several changes to his matchday 23 ahead of a tricky Test against a confident Italy side on Saturday.

Italy come off their first win against the Wallabies last weekend, underlining that they are a team to be reckoned with, while the Springboks are looking for their first victory of the Autumn Nations Series.

Planet Rugby breaks down five selection points ahead of this weekend’s Test in Genoa.

Front-row options aplenty

The Springboks have boasted world-class front-row stocks for a number of years now, and nothing has changed. The unchanged front-row of Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Frans Malherbe are absolute quality in the set-piece and seem to be the preferred trio to start the game and lay the foundations for the impact players to explode off later in the game.

The more dynamic trio of Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and Vincent Koch offer a lot more energy and sheer impact later in a game, making their selections on the bench ideal for the clash against Italy.

However, despite the front-row depth, the Springboks have not enjoyed that outright scrum dominance that makes them such a dangerous team. They will be hoping to flip the switch against Italy and gather some momentum on their end-of-year tour that has nothing in terms of results but has answered a lot of questions for the management.

New second-row

Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager are above and beyond the incumbent lock pairing, a selection that is rarely disputed. However, the choice of fringe players Marvin Orie and Salmaan Moerat for the Italy Test is a brilliant call.

Both players need to add to their minutes in the Test arena and, fortunately, know each other well from the Stormers’ set-up. It is a massive opportunity for Orie, who will likely run the lineout this weekend just as De Jager regularly does.

Meanwhile, Moerat needs to take on the role of enforcer and make good on his selection, as he has been waiting for his chance for an extended period. The former junior Springboks captain has all the making to be 50+ cap international but now needs to showcase this against Italy.

It is a solid decision to start the second-string pair, as both Orie and Moerat need to be primed and ready if one of the two incumbents suffers an injury in the build-up to next year’s World Cup.

New midfield

Harlequins star Andre Esterhuizen has endured a very unlucky year as his recall to the Springboks set-up after years away was shadowed by a monstrous year of Test rugby from Damian de Allende, who starts at outside centre this week.

Esterhuizen is a brilliant centre who can cross the gain line with his strong carries, has a solid offloading game and an absolute rifle of a left boot, which will go a long way in supporting fly-half Damian Willemse.

Personally, De Allende has never looked a natural 13, particularly on defence, but with limited options available and the fact that the Springbok management sees him as a viable option there, time in the saddle will do him good.

Depending on how the game plays out, it would be nice to see Manie Libbok get some solid minutes off the bench, with Willemse slotting in at 12. However, as things stand, it is set to be a bruising day for the Italian midfield.

Back-three continuity

Willie le Roux’s outing against France last week was absolutely fantastic. The full-back may as well have been wearing 10 on his back as he took on a lot of playmaking duties from Willemse, who switched and operated in tandem with Le Roux throughout, stringing together some encouraging attacking plays.

Meanwhile, the decision to drop Makazole Mapimpi last weekend was bold but produced the goods with the elusive duo of Cheslin Kolbe and Kurt-Lee Arendse showing their class with ball in hand and under the high ball.

Mapimpi will always be an option going forward, but it is comforting to know the Springboks can be adaptive at the back. Another run against Italy will give more direction as to whether Mapimpi should be worrying about that 11 shirt or not.

Bomb Squad

Several first-choice players have dropped to the bench for what is the definition of the ‘Bomb Squad’. Adding to the quality of the front-row replacement mentioned above is Test centurion Eben Etzebeth, Kwagga Smith and Evan Roos.

Etzebeth’s influence will be interesting to see in a short burst later on, but it is a tactic that will not be used in the World Cup much, as the number four Springbok jersey is pretty much tattooed on his back. On the other hand, Smith is always impactful off the bench, more so than when he starts, and it will be fascinating to see how he links up with Roos, who should have started this Test against Italy.

Cobus Reinach is class but needs more game time after his return from injury before he can challenge for a starting spot. It would have been lovely to see Libbok start the Italy Test, but it is clear the Springbok management wants Willemse to continue gaining experience at fly-half, which has its merit.

However, Libbok must get at least 25 minutes on the field this weekend. This is imperative to his growth in the Test arena going forward.

The team selection is fair and rewards certain players, but it is absolutely crucial that the Springboks build a solid platform to work with because Italy have become a very tricky team to deal with under Kieran Crowley.

READ MORE: Autumn Nations Series Team of the Week: France dominate while Italy also rewarded

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