Gio's moment of truth
ELUSIVE fullback Gio Aplon will finally have a chance to impress coach Heyneke Meyer when he runs out for the Springboks in the third and final test against England in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
Aplon, who replaces the injured Pat Lambie, was one of three changes to the starting line-up from the side that beat England 36-27 at Ellis Park last Saturday and wrapped up the three-test series with one match still to play.
Flank Jacques Potgieter will make his test debut in place of the injured Willem Alberts. With Frans Steyn unavailable due to his wedding, centre Wynand Olivier will enjoy his first start for the Boks since last year's Tri-Nations away leg against Australia.
But Aplon's selection is the most telling, because Meyer is revealing himself to be as much of a "sizeist" as former coach Jake White was in his years at the helm of the Boks.
White famously refused to pick Luke Watson because he perceived him as too small (among other issues) and similarly, he was forced to pick the diminutive flank Kabamba Floors for his only test.
Meyer has already jettisoned the brilliant Heinrich Brussow in favour of a bigger flank in Marcell Coetzee, and he started the England series with Zane Kirchner at fullback.
Kirchner is easily the biggest of the three fullbacks, tipping the scales 12kg heavier than Aplon.
He is also 10cm taller than Aplon while Lambie, 7kg heavier and a few centimetres taller than Aplon, was used last week.
Lambie also has a better kicking game, but no one has running ability like the Stormers flyer.
Although Meyer has gone to great lengths to underline how much he rates Aplon as a player, there is little doubt the Stormers fullback will have to win the coach over with a strong performance.
"Being selected shows how quickly the wheel can turn," Aplon said.
"When I was left out of the initial squad, one of the things I said to myself was to remain positive. Now I want to push myself to be better, and having pressure on me to do that will make me a better player."
Potgieter, who grew up in Port Elizabeth, could scarcely believe he was making his debut less than a year after sitting in the stands watching the Springboks beat the All Blacks at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
"It's been a huge roller-coaster. I was playing Currie Cup first division last year and was a fan in the stands when the Boks played the All Blacks," Potgieter said.
"My friend said we must come to watch every Bok game in PE and now I'm playing. In last year's Nation's Cup I got to sing the national anthem for the first time and knew then I wanted to play for the Boks."
Lions flyhalf Elton Jantjies will make his debut if he comes off the bench, while Ryan Kankowski has been recalled to the squad for the first time since playing against the All Blacks last year, taking the place of Keegan Daniel among the reserves.
Jean de Villiers was yesterday deservedly named Springbok captain for the rest of the year after leading South Africa to a test-series victory over England.
He was initially only named as skipper for the duration of the England series, but Meyer decided to make his appointment permanent before the third test was even played.
Bok Squad: Gio Aplon, JP Pietersen, Jean de Villiers (captain), Wynand Olivier, Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn, Francois Hougaard, Pierre Spies, Jacques Potgieter, Marcell Coetzee, Juandre Kruger, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: Adriaan Strauss, Werner Kruger, Flip van der Merwe, Ryan Kankowski, Ruan Pienaar, Elton Jantjies, Bjorn Basson.