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Veteran Vermeulen to lead SA against Australia

Duane Vermeulen will stand in for injured Siya Kolisi as captain of Rugby World Cup title-holders South Africa when they face Australia on Saturday in a Rugby Championship first round match.

Kolisi suffered a serious knee injury last April and will be available only in August, when the Springboks play three warm-up games before the World Cup kicks off in France the following month.

Vastly experienced No. 8 Vermeulen has been a caretaker captain before and is given the honour again in what the 36-year-old says will be his final season before retiring.

“We had a few options as potential captains and we have two good leaders in Duane and Lukhanyo (Am), who has been named vice-captain for this match,” said coach Jacques Nienaber.

“They are both quality leaders and they will have a lot of experience around them on the field, which is fantastic for us as coaches.”

Apart from Kolisi, fly-half Handre Pollard, lock Eben Etzebeth and scrum-half Jaden Hendrikse could not be considered due to injuries.

Manie Libbok starts as playmaker, Cobus Reinach partners him at half-back and uncapped Jean Kleyn and Marvin Orie are the locks.

Johannesburg-born Kleyn is named after switching allegiance from Ireland — a country he represented through residency, playing five times including at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

South Africa make nine changes from the team that beat England convincingly when they last played, in London last November.

The survivors are full-back Willie le Roux, winger Kurt-Lee Arendse, outside centre Am, and the entire front row of props Ox Nche and Frans Malherbe and hooker Bongi Mbonambi.

Nche injured

But the number of changes could rise to 10 by Wednesday as, less than two hours after the team announcement, Nche suffered a chest injury in training.

If the loosehead has to withdraw, Steven Kitshoff will be called up, either to the starting line-up or on the bench if Nienaber opts to promote current substitute Thomas du Toit.

Nienaber and director of rugby Rassie Erasmus have decided to split a 42-man squad, sending an advance party of 13 players, including unavailable Kolisi, to New Zealand this week.

New Zealand time is 10 hours ahead of South Africa and the move is designed to combat jet leg as the world champions prepare for a clash with arch rivals the All Blacks in Auckland on July 15.

“Our plan from the outset was to select a squad that we believe has what it takes to beat Australia while, at the same time, selecting a group of players that could travel to New Zealand to give us the best possible chance to do well in both matches,” said Nienaber.

Turning to Australia, the coach said “this will be the first time we see them play under his (coach Eddie Jones) leadership in a while”.

“Our focus is mainly on our game and what we would like to do in the match.

“This game is very important to set the tone for us this season, and we know that regardless of what style of play Australia dishes up it is going to a physical and hard match.”

Team (15-1)

Willie le Roux; Canan Moodie, Lukhanyo Am, Andre Esterhuizen, Kurt-Lee Arendse; Manie Libbok, Cobus Reinach; Duane Vermeulen (capt), Pieter-Steph du Toit, Marco van Staden; Marvin Orie, Jean Kleyn; Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nche

Replacements: Joseph Dweba, Thomas du Toit, Vincent Koch, RG Snyman, Evan Roos, Deon Fourie, Grant Williams, Damian Willemse

Coach: Jacques Nienaber (RSA)