South Africa’s Player of the Year in 2010, Gurthrö Steenkamp, will make his 50th Test appearance for the Springboks when they take on Wales at Kings Park in Durban on Saturday (kick-off 17h00).
Steenkamp has been included in the starting line-up for the first Welsh Test in one of six changes to the match-day squad from the team which comprehensively beat the World XV last weekend in Cape Town, four of which are positional shifts.
Cornal Hendricks, who shone for the Springboks last weekend at Newlands, will make his Test debut on Saturday, while his provincial teammate from the Free State Cheetahs, the uncapped Lood de Jager, has been selected on the bench.
The two changes in the backline are at inside centre, where Jan Serfontein will earn his first Test start for South Africa, and scrumhalf, where Fourie du Preez will start with Ruan Pienaar on the bench alongside Tendai Mtawarira, who has swapped places with Steenkamp.
The 32-year-old Steenkamp, who made his international debut on 27 November 2004 against Scotland in Edinburgh, will become the 29th Springbok to reach 50 Test caps. He will also become the sixth prop to achieve this feat behind Os du Randt, CJ van der Linde, Ollie le Roux, Jannie du Plessis and Mtawarira.
“This is a wonderful achievement for Gurthrö and I’m very proud of him,” said Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer.
“He has been playing Test rugby for a decade and is vastly experienced at all levels of the game. Gurthrö always gives everything he has for the Springbok jersey and it’s always good to see commitment and hard work pay off.”
Meyer was also very happy for Hendricks and De Jager, who have been two of the Toyota Cheetahs’ stars this season.
“To make one’s Test debut is a proud moment in any player’s career. Cornal and Lood fully deserve to be in the squad this weekend and I know they will do well,” said Meyer.
“Cornal performed exceptionally well in his first start for South Africa against the World XV last weekend and really made the most of his opportunity.
“Lood has everything expected from a modern lock – not only is he big and powerful, but he likes the physical stuff and is very skilful as well.
“I also planned on giving Jan an opportunity this month. He was first selected when he was 20 last year and it’s always been our plan to groom him for a long Springbok career. He’s been playing well for the Vodacom Bulls lately and his first start for the Springboks is well-deserved after making nine appearances from the bench in 2013.
“Jan and JP Pietersen will face a very experienced midfield combination on Saturday, but they have played against the best in Vodacom Super Rugby and know what is expected of them.”
Meyer said he is expecting a stern challenge from Wales on Saturday.
“They started their tour well with a good win in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday evening and they are always fired up and ready,” said the Springbok coach.
“Wales have an experienced coaching team and they were the Six Nations champions in 2012 and 2013, as well as the back-bone of the British & Irish Lions team which beat Australia last year, so this will be a massive challenge in our first Test of the season.
“Although we got our season off to a good start against the World XV last weekend, there were a few areas of the game we were not satisfied with and which we worked hard on this week. We will have to be at our best on Saturday and we want to make our supporters proud.”
Victor Matfield, who will captain the Springboks for the 18th time in a Test, will equal John Smit’s South African record of 111 Tests in the Green and Gold.
Four players who are part of the squad were not considered for selection because of illness and injury. They are Juan de Jongh (chest infection), Siya Kolisi (flu), Oupa Mohoje (flu) and Marnitz Boshoff (ankle).
Springboks: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez (vice-captain), 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Bakkies Botha,3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (vice-captain), 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Lodewyk de Jager, 20 Schalk Burger, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Johan Goosen, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.
Date: Saturday, June 14
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Steve Walsh (Australia), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)