Cheslin Kolbe will play his first Test at fullback when he makes a return to the Springbok team for the first time since July in a settled team to face the top-ranked team in the world, Ireland, at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday as Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber targets a strong start to the Castle Lager Outgoing Tour.
Kolbe, whose last Test was in the Castle Lager Incoming Series against Wales, will start in an exciting back three with Kurt-Lee Arendse and Makazole Mapimpi, while Jesse Kriel will pair up with Damian de Allende in an experienced midfield.
Damian Willemse will don the No 10 jersey in a halfback pairing with Jaden Hendrikse (scrumhalf), while Nienaber opted for Jasper Wiese at No 8 in a loose trio with Pieter Steph-du Toit and Siya Kolisi, given the physical challenge expected from the Irish forwards.
The front row features props Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe and hooker Malcolm Marx, with Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager in the engine room, while the bench features a split of six forwards and two backs.
Bongi Mbonambi (hooker), Ox Nche and Vincent Koch (both props) will be joined by utility forwards Franco Mostert, Kwagga Smith and Deon Fourie as the forward replacements, while Faf de Klerk (scrumhalf) and Willie le Roux (fullback) will be the two backs on the bench.
“We selected a team we believe contains the best combinations to counter the threats posed by Ireland,” said Nienaber.
“Damian (Willemse) has done well for us at flyhalf, and he is continuing to grow as a player in that role, while we think Cheslin has the potential to add a new dimension to our game at fullback.
“He was sidelined for a while after breaking his jaw against Wales, but he has played four 80-minute matches for Toulon since returning to play, and we are confident that he will step up to the challenge.”
Nienaber said Kolbe will also provide flyhalf cover: “Cheslin has delivered star performances for his clubs in France at flyhalf, so he will slot in as a back-up flyhalf if necessary, while Faf is another option for us at No 10 as well.
“Damian Willemse can also move to inside centre if we need cover there, while Damian de Allende can play outside centre and Willie fullback, and this allowed us for us to opt for a six-two split on the bench.”
Nienaber expected a massive onslaught from Ireland and said his charges have to be prepared for an epic encounter.
“Ireland are the top ranked team in the world currently and they’ve shown in the past that they can be a force to reckoned with in Dublin,” said Nienaber.
“We last faced them on their home patch in 2017 and they beat us 38-3 in that match, and they also beat us here 29-15 in 2014 and they will draw confidence from that.
“Similarly, to us they will also view this as a vital clash with an eye on next year’s Rugby World Cup in France where we will cross paths in the pool stages.
“Obviously we are a long way out from the World Cup, but we have a limited number of matches left before the competition and the preparation doesn’t get better than playing a side we will face in the World Cup and the No 1 side in the world.
“This match is important for us for many reasons, one of which is to test our player combinations with the World Cup less than a year away.”
On the injury front, Nienaber said Sbu Nkosi (wing) and Marco van Staden (flanker), who suffered rib injuries in the Vodacom Bulls’ clash against the Cell C Sharks in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship on Sunday, would not join the squad and will not be replaced at this stage as there is sufficient cover in the touring group.
Springbok team to face Ireland in Dublin:
15 – Cheslin Kolbe (Toulon) – 20 caps, 50 pts (10t)
14 – Kurt-Lee Arendse (Vodacom Bulls) – 3 caps, 10 pts (2t)
13 – Jesse Kriel (Canon Eagles) – 56 caps, 60 pts (12t)
12 – Damian de Allende (Wild Knights) – 66 caps, 45 pts (9t)
11 – Makazole Mapimpi (Cell C Sharks) – 33 caps, 110 pts (22t)
10 – Damian Willemse (DHL Stormers) – 23 caps, 19 pts (1t, 4c, 2p)
9 – Jaden Hendrikse (Cell C Sharks) – 10 caps, 12 pts (2t, 1c)
8 – Jasper Wiese (Leicester Tigers) – 18 caps, 5 pts (1t)
7 – Pieter-Steph du Toit (Toyota Verblitz) – 64 caps, 15 pts (3t)
6 – Siya Kolisi (captain, Cell C Sharks) – 71 caps, 35 pts (7t)
5 – Lood de Jager (Wild Knights) – 64 caps, 25 pts (5t)
4 – Eben Etzebeth (Cell C Sharks) – 106 caps, 15 pts (3t)
3 – Frans Malherbe (DHL Stormers) – 54 caps, 5 pts (1t)
2 – Malcolm Marx (Kubota Spears) – 55 caps, 65 pts (13t)
1 – Steven Kitshoff (DHL Stormers) – 67 caps, 5 pts (1t)
16 – Bongi Mbonambi (Cell C Sharks) – 52 caps, 55 pts (11t)
17 – Ox Nche (Cell C Sharks) – 15 caps, 0 pts
18 – Vincent Koch (unattached) – 37 caps, 0 pts
19 – Franco Mostert (Honda Heat) – 59 caps, 10 pts (2t)
20 – Deon Fourie (DHL Stormers) – 3 caps, 0 pts
21 – Kwagga Smith (Shizuoka Blue Revs) – 27 caps, 15 pts (3t)
22 – Faf de Klerk (Canon Eagles) – 42 caps, 25 pts (5t)
23 – Willie le Roux (Toyota Verblitz) – 79 caps, 65 pts (13t)