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Will anyone really remember who wins the 2019 Rugby Championship? Let’s face it, this year is all about the World Cup. Who remembers any Rugby Championship (or Tri-Nations) winners in a World Cup year? In case you’re interested, it was New Zealand in 1999, 2003, 2007, Australia in 2011 and 2015, which means every time the All Blacks won the Tri-Nations, they didn’t win the World Cup. Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus says he wants to win the Rugby Championship. If that’s the case, he’s certainly not playing his strongest side against Australia at Ellis Park on Saturday. No Handré Pollard at flyhalf, no Willie le Roux at fullback, three uncapped players in Herschel Jantjies, Rynhardt Elstadt and Lizo Gqoboka. What is more plausible is that Erasmus is using the Rugby Championship to try out new players and to bring back discarded players. That might better explain the debutantes and the presence of players like Marcell Coetzee, Cobus Reinach and particularly Frans Steyn on the bench. The side to play Australia is still a good side with plenty of experience in the pack and some exciting youngsters with varying degrees of experience in the backline. At the start of Erasmus’s Springbok coaching career, he surprised everyone by selecting promising yet inexperienced players who performed with aplomb. Here’s a chance for a new crop of players to do the same, and stake a claim for World Cup honours. – David O’Sullivan
Experienced lock Eben Etzebeth was on Wednesday named as Springbok captain for Saturday’s first Castle Lager Rugby Championship match against Australia in Johannesburg, while Rynhardt Elstadt (loose forward) and Herschel Jantjies (scrumhalf) will both make their Test debuts on the Highveld.
The game is the first in the Springboks’ shortened 2019 Castle Lager Rugby Championship campaign, which also consists of away matches against New Zealand and Argentina. Kick-off on Saturday is at 17h05 and the match will be broadcast live on SuperSport.
Etzebeth takes over the captaincy from regular skipper Siya Kolisi, who is recovering from a knee injury, while Aphiwe Dyantyi was also not considered for selection because of a hamstring injury. It will be Etzebeth’s 12th Test as Bok captain.
Elstadt (Toulouse, France) and Jantjies (DHL Stormers) are the only two uncapped players in the starting team, while Lizo Gqoboka (prop, Vodacom Bulls) is also set to earn his debut off the bench.
Elstadt is picked at No 6 flank in a loose trio that also includes the experienced duo of Pieter-Steph du Toit (No 7, 46 caps) and No 8 Francois Louw (65 caps). Jantjies, will play alongside the 33-cap Elton Jantjies (flyhalf) in a new-look halfback combination.
On the bench there is also a return to the Bok fold for a number of familiar faces as Erasmus casts his net wide with the 2019 Rugby World Cup squad in mind. They are Ulster loose forward Marcell Coetzee, Cobus Reinach (Northampton Saints, scrumhalf), the mercurial Frans Steyn (Montpellier, utility back) and Dillyn Leyds (DHL Stormers, utility back).
The Springbok pack for Saturday’s match on the Highveld is hugely experienced, sharing 394 caps, and is expected to the lead the charge against the wily Wallaby forward unit. Etzebeth has 75 caps to his name, his lock partner Lood de Jager is set to make his 39th appearance while Tendai Mtawarira has already played in 107 Tests.
Rassie Erasmus, the SA Rugby Director of Rugby, said he and the Springbok team are excited for the start of the international season.
“The squad have trained together for more than three weeks and this match is important for us to start a very important rugby year,” said Erasmus.
With the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan looming, Erasmus said each of the three Castle Lager Rugby Championship matches was vital.
“We want to win the Castle Lager Rugby Championship and we have a specific plan, which starts Saturday with the first Test against the Wallabies,” said Erasmus.
“We have planned to mix things up in the first two Tests of the season, in order to give game time to as many of the players in our wider squad, and we believe this is the right combination to face a very good and competitive Australian side.
“We are excited for the forthcoming year and I want to congratulate Rynhardt, Herschel and Lizo on their first inclusion in a Springbok match-day squad, while the leadership role is not something new for Eben. The build-up has been good and there is definitely a very good vibe for match.
“Australia have prepared very well for this match and they have spent two weeks at altitude to acclimatise to the Highveld, so we are in for a great contest,” added Erasmus.
The Springbok team to Australia in Johannesburg
15. Warrick Gelant (Vodacom Bulls), 5 caps – 5 points (1 try)
14. Sbu Nkosi (Cell C Sharks), 6 – 20 (4t)
13. Jesse Kriel (Vodacom Bulls), 40 – 60 (12t)
12. André Esterhuizen (Cell C Sharks), 6 – 0
11. Makazole Mapimpi (Cell C Sharks), 4 – 20 (4t)
10. Elton Jantjies (Emirates Lions), 33 – 229 (2t, 42c, 45p)
9. Herschel Jantjies (DHL Stormers), uncapped
8. Francois Louw (Bath, England), 65 – 45 (9t)
7. Pieter-Steph du Toit (DHL Stormers), 46 – 20 (4t)
6. Rynhardt Elstadt (Toulouse, France), uncapped
5. Lood de Jager (Vodacom Bulls), 38 – 20 (4t)
4. Eben Etzebeth (captain, DHL Stormers), 75 – 15 (3t)
3. Trevor Nyakane (Vodacom Bulls), 37 – 5 (1t)
2. Bongi Mbonambi (DHL Stormers), 26 – 15 (3t)
1. Tendai Mtawarira (Cell C Sharks), 107 – 10 (2t)
16. Schalk Brits (Vodacom Bulls), 11 – 5 (1t)
17. Lizo Gqoboka (Vodacom Bulls), uncapped
18. Vincent Koch (Saracens, England), 13 – 0
19. Marvin Orie (Emirates Lions), 1 – 0
20. Marcell Coetzee (Ulster, Ireland), 28 – 30 (6t)
21. Cobus Reinach (Northampton Saints, England), 10 – 10 (2t)
22. Frans Steyn (Montpellier, France), 56 – 132 (10t, 5c, 21p, 3d)
23. Dillyn Leyds (DHL Stormers), 9 – 5 (1t)
Saturday’s Test – All the stats and facts
It is almost 11 years since South Africa last hosted Australia at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg.
Ten Test matches have taken place against Australia at Emirates Airline Park, with the first on 12 August, 1933 and the last on 30 August, 2008. The score in the last match was a record 53-8, the Boks’ biggest win against Australia ever.
Australia have only one win at this stadium, when John Thornett’s Wallabies scored a narrow win of 11-9 on 24 August, 1963.
Head to Head at Emirates Airline Park
Played 10; Won 9; Lost 1; Drawn 0; Points for 276; Points against 121; Tries for 40; Tries against 11; Wins 90%
Team records against Australia at Emirates Airline Park
Most points: 53 – 30 August 2008
Most tries: 8 – 5 August 1961 and 30 August 2008
Most conversions: 5 – 30 August 2008
Most penalty goals: 5 – 22 August 1998
Most drop goals: 1 – 12 August 1933 and 9 September 2006
Individual records against Australia at Emirates Airline Park
Most points: 20 – JL Nokwe – 30 August 2008
Most tries: 4 – JL Nokwe – 30 August 2008
Most conversions: 4 – WW Greeff – 17 August 2002
Most penalty goals: 5 – PC Montgomery – 22 August 1998
Most drop goals: 1 – BL Osler – 12 August 1933 and AS Pretorius – 9 September 2006
All test matches at Emirates Airline Park
Played 50; Won 35; Lost 13; Drawn 2; Points for 1340; Points against 848; Tries for 166; Tries against 79; Wins 70%
Team records at Emirates Airline Park
Most points: 63 v Argentina – 9 August 2008
Most tries: 9 v Western Samoa – 13 April 1995 and v Argentina – 9 August 2008
Most conversions: 9 v Argentina – 9 August, 2008
Most penalty goals: 6 v France – 16 June 2001 and Scotland – 14 June 2003
Most drop goals: 2 v New Zealand – 24 June 1995 and 19 July 1997
Individual records at Emirates Airline Park
Most points: 28 by GK Johnson (3t, 5c, 1p) v Western Samoa – 13 April 1995
Most tries: 4 by JL Nokwe v Australia – 30 August 2008
Most conversions: 9 by AD James v Argentina – 9 August 2008
Most penalty goals: 6 by each of PC Montgomery v France – 16 June 2001 and LJ Koen v Scotland – 14 June 2003
Most drop goals: 2 by each of JT Stransky v New Zealand – 24 June 1995 and JH de Beer v New Zealand – 19 July 1997
The total Test caps for the Springbok starting line-up is 488. There are 94 caps in the backline and 394 amongst the forwards while the bench have a further 128 caps.
The average number of caps per player in the backline is 13, and 49 per forward. The players on the bench average 16 caps. The average age of the starting fifteen is 27.
Eben Etzebeth will become the third most capped lock, winning his 76th Test, surpassing Mark Andrews’ 75 Test matches. Victor Matfield (127) and Bakkies Botha (85) are the most capped Springbok locks. It will also be Eben’s 12th Test match as captain.
The longest period between Test caps for this selection belongs to Marcell Coetzee. His last Test match for the Springboks was on 8 August 2015 against Argentina in Durban, almost four years ago.
Should the Wallabies score a try in this Test match, it will be the 800th Test try conceded by South Africa in the history of Springbok Rugby.
Milestones and records
The Springboks need three tries to reach 200 Test tries against Australia. It will be the first time ever that have South Africa scored 200 tries against a single country (Note: this statistic does not include the 17 tries that the Springboks scored in three matches against New South Wales in 1921. Australia regard those matches as Test matches, South Africa does not).
Elton Jantjies needs 13 points to reach 50 career points against Australia.
Rynhardt Elstadt and Herschel Jantjies will make their Springbok debuts, while Lizo Gqoboka could also join them should he be used as a substitute.
Warrick Gelant and Sbu Nkosi will face the Wallabies for the first time as will Marvin Orie if he is used as a substitute.
Tendai Mtawarira will become the second most capped Springbok in the Castle Lager Rugby Championship, making his 51stappearance. Bryan Habana holds the records with 53 appearances.
The referee is Paul Williams of New Zealand. This will be his 10th Test match as a referee, but his first involving South Africa.
The Assistant Referees are Matthew Carley and Karl Dickson, both from England, while Rowan Kitt, also from England, will be the TMO.
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