Cape Town - When Lionel Mapoe was named on the Springbok bench for last July's Rugby Championship clash against the All Blacks in Johannesburg, there were a lot of people keen to see how he would fare on the international stage.
Having carved a reputation for himself as one of the most exciting centres in South Africa, Mapoe was given just a couple of minutes at the end of that match, which the Boks lost 27-20.
That remains Mapoe's only appearance for the Springboks - he was not a member of the Rugby World Cup squad as Jean de Villiers, Damian de Allende, Jesse Kriel and Jan Serfontein were given the midfield duties.
Almost a year on from that cameo at Ellis Park, Mapoe is impossible to ignore any longer.
His Super Rugby form in 2016 has been superb and he is the joint-top try scorer in the competition (9) alongside the Sunwolves' Akihito Yamada.
And, on Saturday, Mapoe will have the moment he deserves when he starts in the No 13 jersey alongside Damian de Allende as the Boks host Ireland at Newlands.
"I just told myself that it’s my second first start," Mapoe joked from the team hotel in Cape Town.
obviously a big one. I’m excited and happy … I don’t really know what to say
right now, it all has to sink in a bit. It’s not going to be easy, but hard
work pays off."
Mapoe's inclusion means that the highly-rated midfield pairing of De Allende and Jesse Kriel has been put on ice.
De Allende and Mapoe have never played together before, but the past two weeks has eased some of those worries, the Lions speedster says.
"Me and Damian
haven’t played together but we’ve found each other quite well this last week," said Mapoe.
"We’ve put a few more structures together … defending more, attacking more. He’s
been here for a while and I can learn a few things from him … he’s a good
Bok coach Allister Coetzee acknowledged that the decision to break up the Kriel/De Allende partnership was not an easy one, but Mapoe's form simply had to be rewarded.
"We’re starting fresh and I am rewarding form," Coetzee said.
been outstanding throughout the Super Rugby campaign.
"This is not just a 15-man
team, it is a 23-man squad. I’m sure Jesse will get a chance again playing with
Damian de Allende.
"I’m hoping that the combination this weekend between Damian
and Lionel will come off … I think they bring something to the team that I’m
really keen to see."
Coetzee is particularly excited by what his new centre combination offers on attack.
"Both of them are facing a defence that will put us under
pressure and sometimes you can’t go around them and you have to go through
them," he said.
"Both of them can bring that to the team … they have that physical edge to
do that. When we need to go around people Lionel can do that … I don’t think a
lot of people underestimate his pace and I’m really happy to have him there."
Kriel has been named on the bench, but he will not necessarily come on at centre.
"I am aware that Kriel can potentially be a fullback, but
Patrick Lambie can also play that role for us," said Coetzee.
"You’ve got to weigh up what
would be the better combination depending on the situation."
Saturday's match kicks off at 17:00.
15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Warren Whiteley, 21 Rudy Paige 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Jesse Kriel
15 Jared Payne, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best (captain) 1 Jack McGrath
Substitutes: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Finlay Bealham, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Kieran Marmion 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Craig Gilroy