PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa – Two 20-year-olds fresh off the plane from New Zealand will find themselves at the centre of attention on Saturday when South Africa faces Scotland in a one-off test that will give an indication of their depth.
While junior world player of the year Handre Pollard will make his Springboks debut just a week after he captained South Africa to second place at the junior world championship at Eden Park, No. 8 Adam Ashe, who featured for 10th-place Scotland, will become the senior team’s seventh new cap on its four-match world tour.
Last week, Ashe was preparing for training at Lincoln University in Christchurch, where he has spent the last few months on a scholarship which identifies future stars. Past recipients include John Barclay and current captain Grant Gilchrist.
“He is a talented player and the reports of his form in New Zealand have been very positive,” Scotland coach Vern Cotter said.
“He’s trained well with us and looked sharp. He is a specialist No. 8 and this is a golden opportunity for him.”
While Scotland has beaten the United States, Canada and Argentina over the past three weeks, South Africa won its series against Wales 2-0.
However, the Springboks have lost seven players to club duty in France since overcoming a 13-point deficit in the final 10 minutes of their 31-30 victory over Wales last week, leading coach Heyneke Meyer to name five uncapped players in his 23-man squad.
While prop Marcel van der Merwe, lock Stephan Lewies, loose forward Teboho Mohoje and flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff are all on a new-look bench, the focus will be on Pollard following his swift elevation to international rugby.
“It is a big, big ask of him,” Meyer said. “We did sit down and discuss it with him, and I thought long about this. He’s played a lot of rugby lately, and he’s flown into the country, but I always believe that my 10 must show a lot of character.
“I don’t think there is a better test match than this to put him into the deep end. You want to start with a player like that and see what he can bring to the table.”
In total, South Africa has six changes to its starting team, with 21-year-old Lood de Jager making his first start at lock after a knee injury ruled Flip van der Merwe out of action for six months.
Cotter has had to make do without English Premiership players, and made four changes to the team which beat Argentina 21-19 in Cordoba last weekend as he continues to assess the players at his disposal during his maiden tour as coach.
“It’s a massive challenge and it gives our boys an opportunity to lift their level,” Cotter said of Saturday’s encounter at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
“I’ve been pleased with the initiative that’s developing within the team. We’re starting to get good variety in our game. Now it’s a matter of seeing if we can do it against very good opposition.”
South Africa: Willie le Roux, Cornal Hendricks, JP Pietersen, Jan Serfontein, Lwazi Mvovo, Handre Pollard, Fourie du Preez; Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Burger, Marcell Coetzee, Victor Matfield (captain), Lood de Jager, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Coenie Oosthuizen. Reserves: Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane, Marcel van der Merwe, Stephan Lewies, Teboho “Oupa” Mohoje, Francois Hougaard, Marnitz Boshoff, Zane Kirchner.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland, Nick De Luca, Peter Horne, Tommy Seymour, Duncan Weir, Henry Pyrgos; Adam Ashe, Chris Fusaro, Robert Harley, Grant Gilchrist (captain), Tim Swinson, Geoff Cross, Ross Ford, Alasdair Dickinson. Reserves: Kevin Bryce, Moray Low, Euan Murray, Jonny Gray, Tyrone Holmes, Grayson Hart, Dougie Fife, Peter Murchie.
© Comox Valley Echo