The experienced JP Pietersen is back in the Springbok starting line-up for their Rugby World Cup quarter-final against Wales at Twickenham in London on Saturday afternoon.
Pietersen – who scored a hat-trick against Samoa in the second-pool match – is included in the only change to the starting team that beat the US by 64-0 in the Boks’ final Pool B match, last Wednesday at the Olympic Stadium.
The 63-capped wing, who has recovered from a knee injury which kept him out of the US test, will wear the No 14 jersey and Bryan Habana will revert to the left-wing for this encounter. It will be the 42nd time they play together as a wing combination in the Springboks’ starting team.
Habana currently leads the try-scoring stakes at the World Cup with five, while Pietersen is joint second with four, a position he shares with five other players.
“JP and Bryan have been in superb form and are playing some of the best rugby of their lives,” said Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer.
“They have been scoring some wonderful tries, as has Lwazi Mvovo, so it’s really great to know that there is good competition among the wings.
“It made sense to reunite Bryan and JP on the wing as it brings a lot of experience to our backline, which has been doing well despite the relative inexperience of Handré Pollard, Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel.”
The Springbok bench shows four changes from the last match. The experienced quartet of Adriaan Strauss, Jannie du Plessis, Ruan Pienaar and Pat Lambie are all back to give the South Africans a boost from the replacements’ bench.
With a combined total of 252 caps between the four of them, these players should be able to make an impact later in the game.
“We’ve seen first-hand how important it is to have experienced players on the field at the end of a match and to have this kind of experience available on the bench in a knock-out match is great,” said Meyer.
“Saturday’s match will be huge and we are expecting an arm wrestle right until the end. We’re playing against a well-balanced side that always likes to mix things up when it comes to physicality.
“They have a good set-piece and some strong ball carriers upfront and in the back – it’s what you expect to face at this stage of the competition and we’re very excited about the challenge.”
The only player who was not considered because of injury is Victor Matfield, who felt some discomfort in his hamstring at training on Tuesday.
“We were planning to use Victor from the bench to add even more experience to our replacements, but we’re also not prepared to risk him if he’s not ready. Luckily in Pieter-Steph du Toit we have another young player who has been performing very well and will slot in with ease,” said Meyer.
Springboks: 15-Willie le Roux, 14-JP Pietersen, 13-Jesse Kriel, 12-Damian de Allende, 11-Bryan Habana, 10-Handrè Pollard, 9-Fourie du Preez (captain); 8-Duane Vermeulen, 7-Schalk Burger (vice-captain), 6-Francois Louw, 5-Lood de Jager, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Frans Malherbe, 2-Bismarck du Plessis, 1-Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16-Adriaan Strauss, 17-Trevor Nyakane, 18-Jannie du Plessis, 19-Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20-Willem Alberts, 21-Ruan Pienaar, 22-Pat Lambie, 23-Jan Serfontein.
Meanwhile, Wales coach Warren Gatland says his team will not easily be beaten by the Springboks.
The Dragons made the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2011 and Gatland feels that despite their injuries Wales are in a good place heading into the quarter-final.
“I don’t think we are ready to go home on Sunday and I don’t think the players are ready to go home.
“We came away from New Zealand in 2011 feeling a little bit unfulfilled, feeling that we had done something reasonably special and didn’t get a chance to get to the final.
“We feel at the moment that we are in a good place mentally. We feel like we have played some pretty good rugby, we are competing with some of the top teams,” said Gatland.