BIRMINGHAM • Two-time champions South Africa yesterday brought back big guns such as Willie le Roux and Duane Vermeulen to tackle Samoa in the World Cup on Saturday, in eight changes to the team stunned by Japan.
Despite being criticised for the age of the side who lost 32-34 last Saturday, coach Heyneke Meyer has named an even more experienced line-up with a new record 891 caps between the players for the Pool B game in Birmingham against the Pacific islanders.
"The last few days have been a time for retrospection and the team this week have been selected specifically with Samoa in mind, as we know we'll have to be at our very best to succeed," Meyer said. "They will pose a massive challenge and I think it's fair to say that it's the biggest game of the season for us."
Captain Jean de Villiers, 34, escaped the cull despite calls in South Africa for him to be replaced.
He will move to outside-centre.
Hard man hooker Bismarck du Plessis, 31, was dropped, however, although 38-year-old lock Victor Matfield stays on.
Three players nominated for the World Rugby player of the year award over the last two years - Eben Etzebeth, Vermeulen and le Roux - were all recalled to the starting line-up.
Adriaan Strauss, who will win his 50th cap, is the starting hooker. Vermeulen will make his first Test appearance of the year in the No. 8 jersey. He had neck surgery in July.
"Duane has been one of the stalwarts of this team and it's great to have him back in the mix," said Meyer. "He is one of the best loose forwards in the world and apart from being a superb ball-carrier and also a great line-out option, he is also good on the ground and brings leadership to the team."
Le Roux, J.P. Pietersen and Damian de Allende return in the backline. Handre Pollard and Fourie du Preez will form a new half-back pairing, with Meyer making five changes in his backs.
In the pack, Etzebeth is one of three changes to the starting line-up with Vermeulen and Strauss. On the bench, Schalk Brits and Frans Malherbe make their first appearances on a Rugby World Cup teamsheet.
"It's been a very tough week after the massive disappointment of last weekend and we owe our supporters a winning performance on Saturday," said Meyer.
"Four years ago in the World Cup pool match in New Zealand, the Samoans pushed the Boks close and we're expecting more of the same this weekend. It will be brutally physical and we have to be 100 per cent focused and ready."