Johannesburg - Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer is set to pull a rabbit out of the hat and hand forgotten flank Heinrich Brussow his first Test start since 2011.
According to the supersport.com website, Brussow is likely to get the nod ahead of Warren Whiteley to replace Marcel Coetzee in the Springbok line-up for their Rugby Championship match against world champions New Zealand at Emirates Airline Park on Saturday.
But Brussow is not the only surprise likely when Meyer reads out the team on Wednesday, uncapped Vincent Koch is set to be rewarded for some exceptional form in the Super Rugby tournament and is likely to make his debut for the Springboks on Saturday.
The two selections are likely to surprise many, as Meyer searches for the right blend of youth and experience while keeping one eye on the Rugby World Cup with a long injury list keeping some of the stalwarts out of action.
It is also likely that New Zealand will experiment this weekend as well, although their biggest shock is likely to be the inclusion of Highlanders pivot Lima Sopoaga at No 10 ahead of the more experienced Colin Slade and Beauden Barrett for the match.
Meyer has been roasted by fans of Brussow in the past after the flank failed to make a series of Springbok sides in the past, but to be honest both form and injuries had let the flank down in the past as he struggled to compare to the likes of Coetzee and Francois Louw, both who have become regulars in the squad.
But this season Brussow has been exceptional for the Cheetahs, upping his workrate and playing a vital part in the loose at both slowing down opposition ball and stealing wherever possible, something that will be a major asset if it happens on Saturday.
Meyer has always said he hasn’t had anything against Brussow despite perceptions to the contrary and rewarded the flank with a place in the extended 49-man squad last month although many would have thought it would be a long shot to see him back in Springbok colours on the field.
But Brussow, who turned 29 on Tuesday and was honoured in the team room with a chocolate cake for his birthday, will have an even bigger present as he will play a vital part in the Springboks’ attempts to recreate their victory at the same venue last year.
The All Blacks are likely to select a settled loose trio and one that relies heavily on getting quick ball, something that will be tasked to both Brussow and Francois Louw to try and disrupt their play, and alongside others like Bismarck du Plessis, the Boks have clearly marked the breakdown as a key area where they need to perform.
Last week the substitution of Du Plessis, coupled with the injury to Coetzee and Louw leaving the field for a deep gash to his cheek meant that Australia’s ploy to bring on fetcher David Pocock to partner Michael Hooper in the loose paid huge dividends for the Wallabies, and swung the momentum their way at a key time in the game.
Brussow also has the enviable record of having played the All Blacks four times and never having lost against them, with the last time he played for the Springboks was in the quarterfinal loss at the 2011 World Cup against Australia. Brussow was in the victorious teams that beat New Zealand in 2009 and 2010 and has a good record against the Kiwis.
While the Boks haven’t spoken about the breakdown battle, the choice was a difficult one between bringing Whiteley in and moving new captain Schalk Burger to seven or bringing in Brussow to replace Coetzee and placing Whiteley on the bench. While the Lions captain does give an extra option in the lineouts, Brussow’s abilities at the breakdown are likely to be what swung it for him.
Whiteley is likely to be on the bench, as the Boks know they face a game where they will need to play for the full 80 minutes, and the Lions captain is a perfect link man in an open game, especially at the end of a match.
Meyer hinted meanwhile that there would be one new cap when he announced Schalk Burger as the new captain on Tuesday afternoon after the team’s practice session.
Koch was seen filling in with the starting line-up at the practice session at St Peters College in Johannesburg and it is likely the Boks will look to him to face the All Black front row to test their depth ahead of the Rugby World Cup.
The former Blue Bulls prop saw his game excel when he switched from loosehead to tighthead when he joined the Pumas in Nelspruit, but it was the loan agreement with the Stormers and his game time in this year’s Super Rugby tournament that really brought him to the fore.
The Bok management had privately admitted being extremely impressed by his scrumming skills and his versatility around the park, and it wasn’t a surprise when he was named in the extended squad after a good Super Rugby season.
With incumbent Jannie du Plessis showing his critics that he is far from done with a good scrumming performance in Brisbane last weekend, Koch can take a step closer to the Rugby World Cup squad if he puts up a good performance, especially with Coenie Oosthuizen out of the running at the moment as he is recovering from a neck injury.
The Boks are likely to take eight or nine front row forwards to the World Cup to ensure they have enough cover in the squad of 31, but with just three tests left before the World Cup announcement it will be hard to ignore a good scrumming performance at the moment.
The rest of the side is likely to remain unchanged, apart from Lood de Jager moving into the place left vacant by Victor Matfield after his exceptional performance in Brisbane. De Jager, who was only supposed to play 20 minutes in the game, ended up playing 60 and made the most tackles in the Springbok defensive line.
Meyer may also look at giving Cornal Hendricks a run, or he may stick with JP Pietersen as both trained in the position this week.
Possible Springbok starting XV:
15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Heinrich Brussow, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira