Durban - Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer says he is “more excited than nervous” after unveiling a team of five debutants for the opening match of the home four-nation series against Italy in Durban on Saturday.
Free State Cheetahs back Willie le Roux and Blue Bulls scrumhalf Jano Vermaak will earn their first caps for South Africa after they were named in the starting XV on Wednesday, while Arno Botha, rising young midfield star Jan Serfontein and Trevor Nyakane were included on the bench.
It was a somewhat surprising move by the Bok coach, who had been largely conservative with his selections in the past.
“I’m very excited about this team. I want to give guys chances," Meyer said.
"You need to see them at the highest level and there’s no better time than now.
“It’s a great attacking backline, but they need to show they can defend as well.
“At this stage, I think I’m more excited than nervous because I really believe a lot of these players can take it to the next level.”
Le Roux has been outstanding for the Cheetahs in Super Rugby this season and his dynamic form is one of the reasons the Bloemfontein side have found themselves among the pacesetters in the competition.
“Willie has had a very good Super Rugby season,” Meyer said.
“He’s the form player at the moment and I want to show the guys that if they play well in Super Rugby, they’re always in with a chance.
“I’m confident in him. He has an X-factor about him, he’s done well in training and I’m really excited about seeing him play.”
Vermaak has also been consistent for the Bulls, featuring regularly for the SA conference leaders.
“Jano’s been with us the whole year last year and he’s probably been the form scrumhalf in Super Rugby," Meyer said.
Captain Jean de Villiers was also included in the team, despite carrying a hamstring injury, and Meyer admitted he was unsure whether the 84-Test veteran would play this weekend.
If De Villiers failed to recover, Serfontein would make his debut alongside Bulls teammate JJ Engelbrecht.
“He hasn’t trained yet this week. The doctors are quite positive, but we’ll have to see in training.
“He’s going to train this afternoon and he’ll have two more days till Saturday. If he’s not fit, probably Jan will start the game.”
The coach also praised flyhalf Morne Steyn after he completed his comeback to the number 10 jersey following a poor 2012 when he lost his place to Patrick Lambie.
“I’m really happy for Morne that he’s back to his best. It just shows the character of the man.
“He was written off last year and I always knew he would be back.”
15 Willie le Roux, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Beast Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Flip van der Merwe, 20 Arno Botha, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein