Cheslin Kolbe and Kurt-Lee Arendse line up the South African wings for the opening match of their Rugby World Cup title defense against Scotland this weekend, with Damian Willemse at full-back ahead of Willie le Roux.
Kolbe’s recall from left wing for Sunday’s Pool B game in Marseille was one of four changes made on Wednesday to the starting team that defeated New Zealand by a record 35-7 score at Twickenham a fortnight ago.
In other changes, Jasper Wiese started from the 8th row ahead of veteran Duane Vermeulen, who was on the bench alongside Le Roux. Center players Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel entered the starting 15, replacing Andre Esterhuizen and Canan Moodie.
The Springboks said youngster Moodie, 20, who was rumored to continue on the sidelines, was ruled out with a hamstring injury.
Nienaber selected his team two days ahead of schedule and said: “With that out of the way we can focus on preparing for Scotland.”
Wiese is the only change in the forward group, which saw seven other starters star in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final. Franco Mostert is again in second place next to Eben Etzebeth.
Captain Siya Kolisi is making his third consecutive appearance after recovering from knee surgery following South Africa’s warm-up win over Wales and the All Blacks.
The Boks went for a six forward and two back row split, rather than the unprecedented 7-1 that attracted attention against New Zealand at Twickenham.
Scrumhalf Faf de Klerk will make his 50th test appearance against the Scots in Marseille. He partners Manie Libbok, who remains South Africa’s first-choice No.10 after Handre Pollard was unable to make the squad due to injury.
“Scotland are a quality team with a strong squad and skilful backs and they play with a lot of intensity so we need to be sharp in attack and defense on Sunday,” Nienaber said.
Wing Makazole Mapimpi, top scorer in the World Cup final victory over England four years ago, appeared to be the biggest loser and did not make the 23-man squad.
But Nienaber and South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus have rotated their squad regularly in the build-up and are expected to use their full squad depth in a tough pool where the Boks will also face Romania, top-ranked Ireland and Tonga.
Erasmus was the coach of the Springboks’ World Cup win in 2019 and Nienaber was his assistant coach.
“All teams have improved since 2019, but World Cups are a little different,” Nienaber said. “You have to have the ability to score points, whereas in 2019 you can achieve that with good defence, a good kicking game, a solid set-piece. We had to adapt. I don’t think we’re the finished product yet, but that’s what we’re working towards.