Springbok coach Peter de Villiers looks set to detonate a bombshell by omitting the experienced lineout kingpin Victor Matfield from his team for the first test against Wales in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
Gavin Rich writes on Superrugby that also likely to watch the kick-off to De Villiers’s first test in charge from the bench is South Africa’s most capped player, Percy Montgomery, while Pierre Spies has won the initial battle for the No 8 jersey ahead of Ryan Kankowski.
De Villiers put his shadow team through two hours of structure at Stellenbosch’s Danie Craven Stadium on Thursday, and he did not deviate once from the 15 that started the session, a strong indication that this will be the team that starts against the Welsh.
The only absentee from training was lock Bakkies Botha, who has returned home until Sunday to attend to a family matter. When he returns to the squad when the group gathers in Bloemfontein on Sunday, it will be to be united with Stormers lock Andries Bekker for the first time. Bekker looks set to be rewarded for his excellent Super 14 form by starting ahead of Matfield.
In Botha’s absence, Danie Rossouw slotted in at lock during the training session.
While Matfield and Montgomery were not part of the first choice unit, another overseas-based Bok, Butch James, ran the entire session at flyhalf. Skipper and hooker John Smit completed the overseas contingent.
Francois Steyn and Jean de Villiers continued to run together in the midfield, though it was hard to tell which would run at inside centre and which would wear the No 13 jersey in Bloemfontein as they interchanged quite a bit.
If the shadow team is an accurate reflection of the combination that will start the first test, and with the Boks not due for another onfield training session before Monday it is reasonable to assume that what we saw in Stellenbosch is what the Welsh will see in nine days’ time, then De Villiers’s team will represent a significant improvement on the transformation front.
With Brian Mujati and Gurthro Steenkamp expected to start at prop, there will be six players of colour in the team. When the Boks won the World Cup in Paris last October, the two wingers, Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen, were the only players of colour.
Talking of Pietersen, he and Schalk Brits continued to train with the squad on Thursday even though neither of them were in the 30-man squad named a day earlier.
Schalk Burger was also in attendance although his injured knee is still heavily strapped and he is not expected to train until after the second Welsh test.
Probable Springbok team: Conrad Jantjes, Tonderai Chavhanga, Francois Steyn, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana, Butch James, Ricky Januarie, Pierre Spies, Juan Smith, Luke Watson, Andries Bekker, Bakkies Botha, Brian Mujati, John Smit (captain), Gurthro SteenkampTweet