Kirchner likely to wear No 15
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer looks set to unleash another shock when he names his starting team for Saturday’s first test against England.
If the way the Boks ran in an open training session at Northwood College on Monday afternoon is anything to go by, there will be three new caps in the starting team at Kings Park. Eben Etzebeth and Juandre Kruger looks set to make up a strong but all new second row, with the other newcomer being the talented Sharks flanker Marcell Coetzee.
The backline will be made up mostly of experienced test players, with the only surprise being fullback, where Zane Kirchner might be the shock selection ahead of Patrick Lambie. The Sharks player was the incumbent in the last line of defence in last year’s World Cup, and after acquitting himself well there, it was anticipated he would continue in the No 15 jersey against England.
However, Kirchner spent most of the training session in the shadow first choice backline and the smart money should be on the Bulls fullback facing England ahead of the Durbanite, who may not have been helped in his quest to be the Bok fullback by the fact that he has played most of the season at flyhalf for the Sharks.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Monday training session was the full bill of fitness that was reported beforehand, and the full participation of the entire squad. With two tough derbies having been played just two days earlier, it was quite startling that this was an occasion where the usual trend of having players sit out on a Monday to nurse injuries was broken.
There are effectively 38 players in the squad, with a group of six players, including the two young Stormers, Frans Malherbe and Siya Kolisi, being invited to join the squad during the build-up in order to gain experience of being part of the Bok group. All 38 trained on Monday, something that is quite freaky if you consider how tough the Loftus derby between the Bulls and Stormers was.
So it seems that one part of the Meyer wishlist -- that there be no more injuries to contend with after the derby weekend -- was granted by the rugby gods. He should also be pleased with the condition of the overseas players, Ruan Pienaar and Frans Steyn.
Frans Steyn looks likely to be the only overseas based player to line up in the starting team, and the good news for Bok fans on that score is that Steyn looks a lot trimmer than he was when he reported for national duty this time last year and in 2010. The televised evidence from the French leagues suggested he might be out of condition, but team doctor Craig Roberts said at the lunch time press conference that Steyn was in good condition and the training session proved it. If anything he may even have lost some weight since last year.
Having three newcomers in the pack might prove challenging for a match against England, and there will be a lot of pressure on Kruger in particular as he looks to fill the massive boots vacated by Victor Matfield as the leader in the lineouts.
“The team has not been announced yet, but if Juandre is in the team he will take charge of the lineouts, something he has experience of doing at the Bulls,” said Meyer.
The inexperience in the Bok pack will be partially off-set by the fact that there are five Sharks who know each other well in the unit, with the front-row of Beast Mtawarira, Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis being joined by flanks Coetzee and Willem Alberts. The latter will also have a big role to play at lineout time as he fits into his new role as a starting blindside flank after playing most of his previous test matches as an impact substitute.
PROBABLE SPRINGBOK TEAM: Zane Kirchner, JP Pietersen, Jean de Villiers (capt), Frans Steyn, Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn, Francois Hougaard, Pierre Spies, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Juandre Kruger, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira.