Bongi Mbonambi to lead much-changed Springboks in Buenos Aires

Bongi Mbonambi to lead much-changed Springboks in Buenos Aires

Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi will captain the national team for the first time when he leads a very different-looking side against Argentina in Buenos Aires on Saturday.

The starting line-up to contest the first of three warm-up games for the Rugby World Cup shows no less than 14 changes from the one that did battle at Ellis Park, as Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber continues to test new combinations.

Mbonambi - who will earn his 60th Test cap this weekend - takes over the captain's responsibilities in the absence of regular captain Siya Kolisi, who is making encouraging progress following surgery to his knee, and stand-in captains Eben Etzebeth and Duane Vermeulen, who remained behind in South Africa with a group of players in a conditioning camp.

Also included in the matchday 23 is prop Gerhard Steenekamp, who could make his Springbok debut off the bench.

Steenekamp, who has progressed through the South African rugby ranks in the past few seasons after representing the Junior Springboks and making a strong statement for the Bulls in the United Rugby Championship, is the only uncapped player in the squad, and is set to become the 933rd Springbok in rugby history.

Only two players who did battle against Argentina last weekend have retained their places in the starting team - flyhalf Manie Libbok and lock Marvin Orie.

Mbonambi will form a strong front row with props Trevor Nyakane and Thomas du Toit, while Jean Kleyn will earn his second start in a lock combination with Orie.

Nienaber also named a physical loose trio with flankers Deon Fourie and Franco Mostert joined by No 8 Jasper Wiese, while Cobus Reinach returns to the starting line-up to join forces with Libbok at halfback.

The backline also features grunt and class as Makazole Mapimpi, Canan Moodie and Damian Willemse form an exciting back three, while Andre Esterhuizen and Lukhanyo Am - who has been named vice-captain for the match - will pair up in the midfield.

Wing Kurt-Lee Arendse has been declared fit to play after suffering a finger injury on Saturday and will provide backline cover with Jesse Kriel and Herschel Jantjies on a bench featuring a five-three split in favour of the forwards.

"This selection includes plenty of Rugby World Cup and Castle Lager Lions Series winners as well as a former Irish international in Jean Kleyn, and this just shows the quality of the depth we have," said Nienaber.

"We've been emphasising the importance of giving as many players as possible a fair chance to show what they can do with an eye on finalising our Rugby World Cup squad, so we are pleased to give Herschel and Jean-Luc an opportunity to play.

"This is going to be a massive physical battle and there will be a lot of pressure on the players mentally and physically, which is exactly the type of situation we would like to see them in as we enter our World Cup warm-up games."

Nienaber admitted that while this may be a vastly different team to last week, most of the players have had extended experience of the Springbok environment and knew the importance of taking the opportunity to impress.

"There's a fair bit of experience within this squad, and apart from Gerhard, most of the players have been in the selection mix in the last two seasons," said Nienaber.

"There is not a player in our enlarged squad who is fully confident that he will be in the World Cup squad, so the competition for places is intense. Each one of the players is desperate for an opportunity to play and it's evident in the way they've been training and in the hard work they've been doing off the field, so we're excited to see what they bring this weekend."

Nienaber was pleased with the speed at which the players acclimatised to the time zone in Argentina and said they were preparing for another hard grind at Velez Sarsfield.

"Argentina have shown in the last two seasons that they are a force to be reckoned with and they are particularly tough to beat at home.

"They pride themselves on their physicality and set pieces and they have an unbelievable fighting spirit, so we are anticipating another feisty battle against them."

Nienaber said SA Rugby Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus would join the squad in Argentina on Thursday after working with the group of players who remained in South Africa in the last few days.

Saturday's match kicks off at 19:10 local time in Buenos Aires, which translates to 00:10 on Sunday morning South African time.

Springboks - 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Canan Moodie, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Franco Mostert, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Trevor Nyakane.

Replacements: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Gerhard Steenekamp, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Jean-Luc du Preez, 20 Evan Roos, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Jesse Kriel, 23 Kurt-Lee Arendse.