Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber is demanding a “big step-up” from his side and is expecting an “epic encounter” against Australia on Saturday as both teams strive to bounce back after crushing defeats in the Rugby Championship.
The world champion Springboks are seeking consistency on the road after erratic form at home against Wales and New Zealand saw South Africa win three Tests and lose two.
They head into the clash at Adelaide Oval on the back of a 35-23 home defeat to the All Blacks just under two weeks ago, having stunned New Zealand 26-10 in their Rugby Championship opener.
“We had a thorough review of our last match against New Zealand, and we have identified the areas of our game in which we need to improve,” said Nienaber, whose side are aiming to win on Australian soil for the first time since 2013.
“We know we need to make a big step-up in the quality of our performance to start the tour on a positive note, and that is a big objective for us this weekend.
“The fact that this will be the first Test between the teams in Adelaide will serve as extra motivation for both teams this weekend, so we are preparing for another epic encounter against them,” he added.
Bok scrumhalf Faf de Klerk returns after missing the second All Blacks Test with concussion and wing Warrick Gelant replaces the injured Jesse Kriel in the only other change.
South Africa’s bench – popularly referred to as the ‘bomb squad’ due to its impact – has also been shuffled.
It features five forwards and three backs rather than the usual 6-2 split, with Jaden Hendrikse replacing Herschel Jantjies, and Elton Jantjies and Frans Steyn providing further cover at the back with Willie le Roux and Jasper Wiese missing out.
‘They’ll be grumpy’
Tactically, South Africa will almost certainly target Australia’s back three after Argentina profited off the Wallabies weak defence under the high ball.
To help counter the threat, Australia recalled the versatile Reece Hodge to start at fullback with Tom Wright shifting to the right wing and Marika Koroibete on his familiar left.
They also welcome back a host of players who were either injured or who missed the last Test for personal reasons, including experienced tighthead prop Allan Alaalatoa and hooker Folau Fainga’a.
But the Wallabies are again without influential captain Michael Hooper who is on mental health leave, with 119-Test veteran James Slipper again assuming the leadership duties.
Australia won their last two Tests against South Africa, both in the 2021 Rugby Championship, which sent them on a five-game winning streak.
Coach Dave Rennie is keen for a repeat after their embarrassing 48-17 loss to Argentina, but admitted it will be a big task.
“They’re almost at full strength and they’ll be grumpy after their second Test loss to the All Blacks,” he said.
“We’re well aware of what’s coming, based on last year’s couple of wins, that’ll only create a bit more of an edge for the Springboks.
“We’re going to have to be at our best, no doubt, and it’s a massive series for us.”
Following the Pumas defeat, Australia parted ways with defence coach Matt Taylor and drafted in Brumbies forwards coach Laurie Fisher, a move Rennie hopes will pay dividends in the battle of the big men.
“He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience which will only benefit our playing group,” he said.
Saturday’s Test kicks off at 07:30 (SA time).
15 Reece Hodge, 14 Tom Wright, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Hunter Paisami, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Noah Lolesio, 9 Nic White, 8 Rob Valetini, 7 Fraser McReight, 6 Jed Holloway, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper (captain)
Substitutes: 16 David Porecki, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Darcy Swain, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Pete Samu, 22 Tate McDermott, 23 Andrew Kellaway
15 Damian Willemse, 14 Warrick Gelant, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Ox Nche
Substitutes: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kisthoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Jaden Hendrikse, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Frans Steyn