Jacques Nienaber defends South Africa changes ahead of Wales Test

Coach describes Damian Willemse’s start at fullback ‘a little side project’

South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber has defended the decision to rejig his back division for Saturday's Test match against Wales in Cardiff.

Nienaber has made four changes to the team that defeated the All Blacks in their last match, two of them forced by injury and unavailability.

Damian Willemse will make his fourth start at fullback in place of a rested Willie le Roux in a move Nienaber described as "a little side project".

Jesse Kriel, who has not played for almost three months, takes over on the wing from Sbu Nkosi, who is stranded in South Africa awaiting his visa, and Herschel Jantjies has got the nod to start at scrumhalf in the absence of an injured Faf de Klerk.


The promotion of Jantjies, for only his third start in the number nine jersey, sees his rival Cobus Reinach drafted on to the replacements bench in the only change among the reserves.

"Damian and Herschel have featured off the bench a fair bit and this is an opportunity to give them a chance to start as we look to build our squad depth ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, " Nienaber told a Zoom press conference from the team's training base at the University of South Wales' Treforest Campus in Pontypridd.

“We know what we have in Willie and, if we had to play a World Cup final on the weekend, we would probably select Willie because of his experience and what he has done for us in the past.

“But this is an ideal situation to allow Damian to settle himself into the fullback position. It’s a little side project.

“We always want to win but we want to develop and transform and this is an ideal opportunity for us to get some experience into guys on this end-of-year tour.

“Jesse has played wing for us before so it’s not an experiment and he’s trained well with us in the last couple of weeks.”

The Springboks are also without winger Cheslin Kolbe and current world player of the year Pieter-Steph du Toit due to injury for their tour which also features matches against Scotland and England.

The starting line-up includes Munster centre Damian de Allende, Ulster number eight Duane Vermeulen, Sale lock Lood de Jager while Saracens prop Vincent Koch and Leicester number eight Jasper Wiese are on the bench.

Despite their recent victory over the All Blacks, the world champions lost their coveted world number one ranking after their rivals’ 54-16 victory over Wales in Cardiff last Saturday.

Nienaber is expecting a much-changed Wales team as his side go in search of a first win in Cardiff for eight years.

“Wales is going to be a nice challenge for us, especially if you look at our record here in Cardiff,” he said.

“Because they are physical, they will go toe to toe with us in that department and you will see there are no changes to our starting pack that beat New Zealand in the Rugby Championship.

“We will have to be at our best physically if we want to get a result this week.

“It’s just a fortress for them, the atmosphere in the stadium is tremendous and you grow an extra arm and a leg.”

Meanwhile, Nienaber confirmed that his predecessor Rassie Erasmus, South Africa’s director of rugby, will be alongside him in the coach’s box rather than carrying water bottles as he did against the Lions.

Nienaber told the conference the Springboks are still awaiting a verdict from a World Rugby disciplinary hearing into Erasmus’s hour-long video posted online in which he criticised match officials after the first Test defeat by the Lions.

SOUTH AFRICA (v Wales, Principality Stadium, Cardiff, Saturday, 5.30pm): D Willemse (Stormers); J Kriel ( Eagles), L Am (Sharks), D de Allende (Munster), M Mapimpi (Sharks); H Pollard (Montpellier), H Jantjies (Stormers); O Nche (Sharks), B Mbonambi (Stormers), T Nyakane ( Bulls); E Etzebeth (Toulon), L de Jager (Sale); S Kolisi ( Sharks, capt), K Smith (Yamaha Jubilo), D Vermuelen (Ulster).

Replacements: M Marx (Kubota Spears), S Kitshoff ( Stormers) V Koch (Saracens), F Mostert (Honda Heat), J Wiese (Leicester), C Reinach (Montpellier), E Jantjies (NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes), F Steyn (Cheetahs).