Cape Town – When the Springboks take on Ireland at Newlands on Saturday they will field two debutants in Faf de Klerk and Bongi Mbonambi.
But while Mbonambi will have to wait for captain and first-choice hooker Adriaan Strauss to run out of puff before he gets his chance, De Klerk will take to the field in the No 9 jersey as a new era of Bok rugby begins.
Any debut is special, but this one even more so given how far De Klerk has come in such a short space of time.
Having joined the Lions in 2014 on loan from the Pumas, De Klerk has become a mainstay of Johan Ackermann’s side over the past three seasons, though his move to the Lions was only made permanent midway through 2015.
But with the likes of Fourie du Preez and Ruan Pienaar owning the No 9 jersey under Heyneke Meyer, De Klerk’s name never really came up in serious discussion when the subject of Bok selection arose.
All through that, De Klerk never stopped believing, and his performances over the past season and a half have made him impossible to ignore any longer.
“Inside it’s always been a dream,” De Klerk told media from Cape Town on Thursday, just minutes after the Bok squad for Saturday was announced.
“I thought ‘if you work
hard and play hard then hopefully you’ll get this chance.’ It probably came
around a bit quicker than I thought.”
The first people De Klerk told after getting the news? His mother and father, of course.
were very overwhelmed and I think they probably shed a few tears,” he said.
“I’ve had unbelievable
support from them throughout my whole career. They probably believed it a long
time ago … they were very happy.”
A lively player by nature who seems to operate on instinct at times, De Klerk is fully aware that he will have to play to a pre-determined structure on Saturday.
“The biggest thing is just that your decision making must be
good,” he said.
“You can’t run everything, you can’t kick everything so you’ve just got to
try and balance that out nicely. If we have an opportunity to have a go we’ll
definitely do that.”
For now, though, De Klerk can simply enjoy the feeling of being a Springbok.
“I’m just very excited to get out there,” he said.
“Not a lot of guys
get their first cap with a start so I’m going to try and make good decisions on
the field and show why I earned that jersey.”
Kick-off on Saturday is at 17:00.
15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Warren Whiteley, 21 Rudy Paige 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Jesse Kriel
15 Jared Payne, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best (captain) 1 Jack McGrath
Substitutes: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Finlay Bealham, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Kieran Marmion 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Craig Gilroy