South Africa have made just two changes to the side that jumped off the canvas to beat France last weekend. Head coach Rassie Erasmus conceded that his selection policy was a tribute to the new found strength of Saturday’s opposition with both changes forced upon him.
Scrum-half Faf de Klerk is released back to his English club Sale Sharks while Eben Eztebeth and Warren Whiteley are injured, which necessitated some rejigging of his pack. Pieter-Steph du Toit drops from the second to the third row, RG Snyman comes into the side at lock and Duane Vermeulen is eighth man, as they like to call it.
“We must start to get some continuity now,” said Erasmus when explaining his selection. “I looked through the team sheet and I think the least amount of caps we have is four.
“We’re coming to play a team that everybody knows their home record, everybody knows their style of play, which is difficult to contain, so the better the combinations, the better chance we have.
“I think teams three to six, including Scotland and us, on their day anybody can beat anybody and I don’t think Scotland is far off.”
Behind a typical juggernaut Bokke pack scrum-half Embrose Papier makes his first start after earning four caps off the bench. The pacey Papier gets his chance because of de Klerk’s absence and the two men offer very different threats.
“Although there are no new caps, it’s nice to get him [Papier] a first start,” said the gaffer. “I think we’re blooding the guys nicely, trying not to cap three or four new boys together in big games. We’ve really been spreading it out well with guys, not throwing four or five new guys into a test match.
“I think he’s ready for it. If it’s dry, that really suits his game. The pace Scotland play at is something that will suit him well. The pack should make it easier for him but Scotland will try to make it tough. We have to give him a nice base on his first start.”
While Scotland will target the newbie, as they would any first time starter, they will also be wary of what he can do if given the luxury of time and space.
Erasmus has some history with Scotland coach Gregor Townsend from his time with Munster in the Pro14. He managed to beat Townsend’s Glasgow side four times in one season, twice in the league, twice in Europe, although the Springboks boss joked that the total points difference was about three and he had nothing but flattery for his opposite number and his Scotland team yesterday.
“It’s tough coaching against him and he is real quality. With the amount of players Scotland have, to be doing what they’re doing, it’s well done.
“We know we’re going to face some well-coached, fit, energetic players. They’re maybe not the biggest team in the world but what they lack in size they make up for with intensity, speed and a great system.”
The statistics suggest a Springbok victory at the weekend because they have played Scotland on 26 occasions since 1906 and lost just five matches. Erasmus was quick to point out that the All Blacks had won 49 matches at home before his side sensationally beat them in Wellington in September, even if that did rather undermine his argument about a strong Scotland side winning nine of their last ten home games.
South Africa are favourites but they have yet to strike the right balance between attacking with their speed on the flanks, as they did when going down narrowly to the All Blacks at Loftus Versfeld, or kicking it into the air and chasing, which was the principle tactic in Paris. But Erasmus is steeped in Springbok tradition, which means only one thing.
“I think, if you compare Hogg, Seymour and Maitland with our back three they’re very much in the same mould, enjoying attack and showing great individual skills,” said the South African coach. “All six are also good in the air. Then when you get to the centres and compare Huw Jones with Jesse Kriel, it’s a really well-matched back line.
“So the forward pack who delivers on the day will unleash the back line.” The Scots must match the Bokke big men or they will gain no momentum in this game.