Schalk Burger is back in the Springboks’ starting line-up for Saturday’s Rugby Championship opener against Australia at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
Burger’s inclusion at number eight, after a great performance as replacement against the World XV last weekend in Cape Town, is one of five changes to the Springboks’ match-23 for this match.
The other four changes are on the bench, where props Heinke van der Merwe and Frans Malherbe, as well as Lood de Jager (lock) and Lwazi Mvovo (wing) have been included.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said the changes were all part of the plan to rotate players in the build-up to the Rugby World Cup.
"We’re expecting a massive contest for the ball on the ground on Saturday and with Schalk there next to Francois Louw and Marcell Coetzee, as well as Bismarck du Plessis, we’ve got a lot of players who are very good at the breakdowns," said Meyer.
"Warren Whiteley played very well last weekend, but he knows exactly where he stands and will play again for the Boks this season. For this match though, we decided to go with this specific loose trio.
"I’ve said last week that we will make changes, but it’s also important to keep some form of momentum. Saturday’s match is going to be massive in the context of our season and we have to ensure we tick the right boxes.
"It will be good to see what Heinke, Frans, Lood and Lwazi can do from the bench, while we’ve also opted to keep continuity in the starting team. There will most likely be changes for every match this season as we keep one eye on the World Cup.
"Trevor Nyakane and Vincent Koch performed very well off the bench against the World XV last weekend, but as we have a lot of depth at prop, I’ve decided to give opportunities to Heinke and Frans to stake their claims, especially as both of them have been in excellent form thus far this season.
"Heinke was the in-form loosehead prop in the French Top 14, while Frans anchored a brilliant DHL Stormers scrum this season.
"Lood is back from injury and our plan has always been to bring him back in one of our first three internationals of the season, while we’ve decided to go for Lwazi as he was very good for the Cell C Sharks in Vodacom Super Rugby, is superb under the high ball and knows his way to the try-line."
Meyer is under no illusions about the enormity of the task as hand in Brisbane on Saturday. The Springboks’ recent record in Australia is not great. The Boks have only beaten the Wallabies once at Suncorp Stadium, two years ago when they won by 38-12, which is South Africa’s biggest away victory ever the men in gold.
"If we’re not at our best, it will be a long day at the office," said Meyer.
"But we played some brilliant rugby last weekend against the World XV in Cape Town and the challenge this weekend is to build on that and improve in the areas we lacked.
"Our basics have to be spot on and it will also be a great test for our defensive systems against a Wallaby side that can rip any team to shreds with the ball in hand."
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Heinke van der Merwe, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Lodewyk de Jager, 20 Teboho Mohoje, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.
Date: Saturday, July 18
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 20:05 local (10:05 GMT, 12:05 SAST, 22:05 NZST)
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)