South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer sprang a surprise in naming scrum-half Fourie du Preez as captain on Wednesday for their key World Cup game against Scotland on Saturday.
Du Preez, 33, takes the role vacated by centre Jean de Villiers, who retired from international rugby after suffering a second broken jaw in six weeks against Samoa last Saturday.
Du Preez, who becomes the 56th Springbok captain, got Meyer’s vote as the squad vice-captain veteran lock Victor Matfield misses the Pool B game in Newcastle because of a hamstring strain.
Du Preez beat the likes of Schalk Burger, Duane Vermeulen and Francois Louw to the post when Matfield was ruled out.
All have captained their domestic teams back home. Du Preez only captained a Super Rugby team back in 2008.
“Fourie has been one of the best scrum-halves in world rugby for a long time, but he also understands the game better than most players and is a tactical genius,” said Meyer.
– Springbok dreamers –
“He will know exactly what is needed on Saturday when we continue our fight to keep our World Cup dream alive.”
After the disaster of losing 34-32 to Japan in their opening Pool B game, Meyer has made only three changes to the starting line-up that bounced back with a big 46-6 win over Samoa.
Jesse Kriel will link up in the centres with Damian De Allende in place of de Villiers, while Lodewyk de Jager takes over from Matfield at lock.
Bismarck du Plessis returns as hooker in place of Adriaan Strauss, who is on the replacements’ bench.
Jan Serfontein, who flew from South Africa to replace De Villiers, goes straight onto the bench.
Meyer said losing two experienced captains — Matfield being the other — in one week had been a severe blow but the squad could cope.
“Schalk (Burger) stood in on the last occasion that Jean and Victor were both absent earlier this season before Fourie had returned to fitness.
“They are both great leaders who go about their work in contrasting ways and I think they will work extremely well in tandem.
“They are hugely experienced and they know what it will take to win this very important match against a great Scottish side.”
The loss to Japan was the biggest shock in World Cup history but South Africa are quietly confident they can still succeed in the tournament.
“The performance against Samoa was much better, but Scotland have been impressive in their victories over Japan and the USA,” said Meyer.
“We know in which areas we have to improve and we will have to fire at 100% on Saturday against a motivated Scotland side.
Willie le Roux; JP Pietersen, Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende, Bryan Habana; Handre Pollard, Fourie du Preez (capt); Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Burger, Francois Louw; Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth; Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane, Frans Malherbe, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Willem Alberts, Ruan Pienaar, Pat Lambie, Jan Serfontein
Coach: Heyneke Meyer (RSA)
– Agence France-Presse