Cape Town - Eben Etzebeth’s two-week suspension means that the impressive lock will miss South Africa’s Rugby Championship Test against New Zealand in Dunedin on Saturday, but his replacement Flip van der Merwe is relishing the challenge of filling his team-mate’s boots.
According to the supersport.com website, the 27-year-old Van der Merwe has amassed 17 Test caps in his career but he has started only three of those matches.
Ironically, Van der Merwe’s last Test start was also against New Zealand, a 29-22 loss at Soccer City in 2010 and he said that there is probably a bit of unfinished business from that game.
“We were probably a bit unlucky in that game so I am very excited about Saturday’s Test,” said Van der Merwe.
South Africa are coming off a draw against Argentina and a loss to Australia while New Zealand are unbeaten in this year’s Rugby Championship, but the imposing Van der Merwe explained the current Springbok team were up for the challenge of beating the All Blacks in their own back yard.
“Every rugby player wants to wants to test himself against the best in the world and that is the challenge that we face on Saturday. New Zealand in New Zealand is probably one of the biggest challenges that there is.
“The belief that we can win is definitely there. We learnt a lot in the past two Tests and we have got better each week. The guys are starting to understand one another and our training this week was probably the best we have had on tour.
“If you pull on a Springbok jersey then you go out to win and that is what we will be doing on Saturday. Myself and (flank) Francois Louw are in the team to being a bit of experience and we are going out to win,” he said.
Van der Merwe has had to become used to being used off the bench but, although he acknowledges that he has got a chance because of Etzebeth’s suspension, he wants to prove that he is deserving of a regular starting role.
“The way the world works you have to take your chances but it’s very unfortunate for Eben. I think that I am in good shape and I think I am playing well. I have had an impact role in the previous tests and I am looking forward to bringing my playing style at the Bulls to the game. I want to show that I am capable of being a starting lock,” he explained.
Van der Merwe’s elevation to the starting XV will be helped in that he will lock the scrum with his Bulls’ team-mate Juandre Kruger, something that Van der Merwe is looking forward to.
“I am very happy to be playing with Juandre. Our lineouts worked well during Super Rugby and I think we can form a good partnership at four and five.”
New Zealand have named Sam Whitelock and Luke Romano as their starting locks with Brodie Retallick on the bench and Van der Merwe has a healthy respect for their abilities.
“Luke Romano and Brodie Retallick are in their first season of Test rugby but Sam Whitlock is an old hand and someone that Victor Matfield has said is one of the best locks in the world.”
New Zealand are expected to make full use of the covered Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin to unleash their dangerous backs but Van der Merwe believes that South Africa are up for the challenge.
“I think that (fitness coach) Bazil Carsis and Heyneke have ensured that we are definitely one of the fittest international teams so if New Zealand want to run the ball they must run it. We will see how far that gets them,” he smiled.
15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock
Substitutes: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18 Brodie Retallick, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Beauden Barrett, 22 Tamati Ellison
15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jean de Villiers (captain), 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Andries Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtwarira
Substitutes: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Dean Greyling, 18-Andries Bekker, 19 Marcell Coetzee, 20 Johan Goosen, 21 Juan de Jongh, 22 Pat Lambie