The Springboks switched things up for the Rugby World Cup game against Namibia as expected.
Not expected was hooker Schalk Brits selected at No. 8. Brits will also captain South Africa, which he did in a warmup win over Argentina this season, but his role at the back of the scrum was an intriguing move by coach Rassie Erasmus for the Pool B game in Toyota on Saturday.
Erasmus explained there was a need for speed.
He expects the Namibians to play quick rugby and try to avoid a forward battle with the Boks, so Erasmus moved the versatile Brits to the back row to counter that, he said. Former Springboks sevens player Kwagga Smith comes in at flank to add more pace in the loose forwards.
"What that gives us then is a lot of speed over the park, which is another benefit against a Namibian team," Erasmus said. "They (Namibia) just want to play the game and enjoy the game and have a lot of fun."
Brits played a few games at flanker at Super Rugby level — a few years back — but he hasn't been in the back row at test level before. At 38, Brits also becomes the second-oldest Springbok to play at a Rugby World Cup after Victor Matfield.
Brits and Smith are two of 13 changes Erasmus made to the starting lineup after the Springboks lost to New Zealand 23-13 in Yokohama on Saturday. Wing Makazole Mapimpi and center Lukhanyo Am are the only two survivors from that defeat, which pressed South Africa into likely having to win all of its remaining pool games — against Namibia, Italy and Canada — if the two-time champion is going to be sure of a quarterfinal place.
Erasmus allowed himself one more reflection on the All Blacks before moving on to Namibia.
"They passed more than us, but we ran more than them, and they certainly played a little more conservatively," Erasmus said. "But when they got the opportunity, they were so clinical and pounced, and that is what you have to admire about them. That is where Steve (Hansen) is just a really good coach.
"If we manage to get through the pool stages and face them again, I think it's things that we can manage to overcome."
South Africa can't look further than Namibia because it doesn't have to look back further than the last Rugby World Cup for evidence that major upsets happen. South Africa lost to Japan four years ago. The threat of the upset was reinforced when Uruguay shocked Fiji at the World Cup in Japan on Wednesday.
"There's no denying we'll start as favorites but we'll get a hell of a shock if we think that's enough to win the game," Erasmus said.
Namibia was exciting in glimpses in a 47-22 loss to Italy in their opening game in Japan so Erasmus' tactical decisions regarding Brits hold some weight. The more pressing priority, though, is the need to rest his big men ahead of what the South Africans sees as their toughest test left in the pool, against the Italians next Friday.
No. 8 Duane Vermeulen, blindside flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit, hooker Malcolm Marx and prop Frans Malherbe get the night off completely against Namibia, as do first-choice halves Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard.
Regular captain Siya Kolisi, locks Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert, and backs Damian de Allende and Cheslin Kolbe are on the bench for backup.
Despite living next door to each other, southern African neighbors South Africa and Namibia rarely meet, mainly because they're in different tiers in world rugby. They've played twice before. South Africa won 105-13 in Cape Town in 2007 and 87-0 at the World Cup in New Zealand in 2011.
South Africa: Warrick Gelant, Sbu Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am, Frans Steyn, Makazole Mapimpi, Elton Jantjies, Herschel Jantjies; Schalk Brits (captain), Kwagga Smith, Francois Louw, Lood de Jager, RG Snyman, Vincent Koch, Bongi Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira. Reserves: Steven Kitshoff, Thomas du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Franco Mostert, Cobus Reinach, Damian de Allende, Cheslin Kolbe
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