Duane Vermeulen to lead Boks against Wallabies, Jean Kleyn set for debut

Duane Vermeulen to lead Boks against Wallabies, Jean Kleyn set for debut

Duane Vermeulen will lead the Springboks for the third time when they take to the field for their Rugby Championship opener against Australia at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

As announced last week, the Boks have split their squads for the shortened Rugby Championship, with some of the group going to New Zealand early to acclimatise and the rest gearing up to face the Wallabies.

The split is not necessarily between the first and second choice starting XVs but more of a blend between the two.

Bok great Vermeulen leads a team featuring a core of Rugby World Cup winners and talented newcomers - who have excelled at vital moments in the past few seasons - and includes a debutant in former Ireland international lock Jean Kleyn, who will earn his first Springbok Test cap.

Flyhalf Manie Libbok and loose forward Marco van Staden also make their first starts having previously made three and 10 appearances respectively as replacements.

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber also named 14 players to depart early for New Zealand on Tuesday to acclimatise and maximise the chances of performing well in the first two Tests, separated by seven days, and 12 000km and 10 time zones.

Vermeulen, who captained the Springboks against Argentina and the All Blacks in 2019, takes over the armband from the injured Siya Kolisi, and forms a powerful loose trio against the Wallabies with Pieter-Steph du Toit and Van Staden, while Nienaber selected a front row featuring props Frans Malherbe and Ox Nche, and hooker Bongi Mbonambi. Kleyn partners Marvin Orie at lock.

In the backline, exciting Bulls wingers Canan Moodie and Kurt-Lee Arendse will play in front of their home fans with experienced fullback Willie le Roux serving as the last line of defence at fullback while Lukhanyo Am returns for the first time since August to renew a former Sharks provincial partnership with Andre Esterhuizen.

Libbok is partnered at halfback by scrumhalf Cobus Reinach - who makes his first start since the final match of the 2021 season.

Nienaber opted for a six-two split in favour of the forwards on the bench with the only two backline players; Grant Williams, who will provide cover at scrumhalf and wing, and Damian Willemse who will cover flyhalf, centre and fullback.

Flyhalf Elton Jantjies, prop Trevor Nyakane and scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies will remain with the team to assist in their preparations for Saturday's season-opener and to provide cover if necessary, meaning the coaches will have a group of 26 players to work with this week.

"Our plan from the outset was to select a squad that we believe has what it takes to beat Australia while at the same time selecting a group of players that could travel to New Zealand to give us the best possible chance to do well in both matches," said Nienaber.

"Our last Rugby Championship match is in Johannesburg and then we'll be able to select a squad from our full complement of players.

"This squad features several Rugby World Cup winners and a crop of younger players who have done the job for us at the highest level, and judging by their enthusiasm and high work ethic at training, we know they are the right players for this big task."

Nienaber was pleased to have a leader of Vermeulen's calibre to steer the team into battle and said: "We had a few options as potential captains and we have two good leaders in Duane and Lukhanyo, who has been named vice-captain for this match. They are both quality leaders and they'll have a lot of experience around them on the field, which is fantastic for us as coaches."

Commenting on the threat Australia posed, Nienaber said: "They are a top-class team and have a great tactician in head coach Eddie Jones.

"This will be the first time we see them play under his leadership in a while, so our focus is mainly on our game and what we would like to do in the match. This game is very important to set the tone for us this season, and we know that regardless of what style of play Australia dishes up it's going to a physical and hard match."

The group departing early to New Zealand with a handful of management includes Kolisi, who will continue to work with the medical and conditioning staff on his rehabilitation from a knee surgery. They will be joined early by Nienaber, assistant coach Felix Jones and Director of Rugby, Rassie Erasmus, who will travel to New Zealand immediately after the Australia Test to ensure that the team has a full week of training.

Another 17 or 18 players and team management members will travel to New Zealand on Sunday afternoon. That group of players will be decided following the Test against Australia - based on the team's needs for the forthcoming Test against New Zealand and player performances against Australia.

The players that will travel to New Zealand on Tuesday are Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Franco Mostert and Jean-Luc du Preez, Kwagga Smith, Faf de Klerk, Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi, Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel, and Kolisi.

Jasper Wiese will join those players in New Zealand later in the week following the birth of his child on Monday.

Springboks - 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Canan Moodie, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche.

Replacements: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Evan Roos, 21 Deon Fourie, 22 Grant Williams, 23 Damian Willemse.