Lood de Jager was the South African Rugby Player of the Year in 2015 but since then the rangy lock has seen his shares plummet, such that his recall on Thursday to start in the second row alongside captain Eben Etzebeth provides him with his first run-on appearance since November last year.
Having experienced the highs of 2015, especially at the World Cup, De Jager admitted on Thursday that 2016 had been a miserable year for him.
“I have to admit, 2016 was a very disappointing year for me, but it seemed like I was injured every two weeks. I feel good now, though, but I don’t want to talk too much because the proof of the pudding will be on Saturday against the All Blacks,” the 24-year-old said in Cape Town.
“I’m definitely very excited, it’s been a while since I started and it’s going to be a big occasion at Newlands. Hopefully I can do well and we execute our plans as a team. To make my first start of the year there will be an unbelievable feeling.”
With the Springboks lineout imploding when they last played against the All Blacks – the 57-0 humiliation in Albany – it was inevitable that coach Allister Coetzee would look to change things up against a New Zealand lineout led by the wonderful Sam Whitelock.
De Jager will be playing with plenty of jumping back-up on Saturday, with Pieter-Steph du Toit chosen in the loose trio.
“I wouldn’t say we have a masterplan, but we have prepared well and I’m sure so have they. We lost five lineouts against them last time, but they were all our own execution errors. Sure, they are a world-class lineout and they put pressure on us, but we have focused on executing as well as we can,” De Jager said.