South Africa star refuses to start against Wales as gesture sees team changed

-Credit: (Image: Getty Images)
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images)


Springboks head coach Rassie Erasmus has revealed Frans Malherbe's selfless act for his fellow prop Vincent Koch ahead of the latter's milestone match against Wales.

Koch is set to earn his 50th Test cap at Twickenham on Saturday – and it will mark only his 13th start for the Springboks. However, thanks to Malherbe's refusal to start the match, thinking of his team-mate's milestone, Koch will be able to reach his half-century from the off – rather than from the bench.

Erasmus revealed that he and his coaching staff were unaware that Koch would be earning his 50th Test cap against Wales, naming the Sharks tighthead on the bench.

SIGN UP: Get the new exclusive Inside Welsh rugby newsletter for full insight into what's really going on around all the big issues. This special offer will get you full access for the entire year for just £10 instead of £40.

Koch has more often than not featured off the bench for South Africa. His start against Tonga at the World Cup last year broke a run of 28 games in which he had been used as a replacement — a stretch dating back to the 2019 World Cup group stages.

But after missing the World Cup final last year because of injury, this weekend's clash with Wales will see Koch, who made his Springboks debut in 2015, finally earn his 50th cap – and it will be as a starter thanks to Malherbe's classy gesture.

"We've made a mistake twice before," Erasmus admitted. "We selected Lood de Jager [against Scotland in 2021] and someone informed me on the Thursday before the game 'do you know it's Franco Mostert's 50th game?'

“It was so nice, I thought ‘oh my, he is going to play off the bench’ and I had a word with Lood and said: ‘I made a mistake, I think Franco should start because it is his 50th game.

“Lood said that he didn’t mind and when we got into the huddle, Lood told the guys that he had something to say and he told the players, ‘listen it is Franco’s 50th game, Franco you start – I will play from the bench’.”

Erasmus added: "So Lood announced it!

"This week, the same thing happened, we announced the team with Frans as the starting tighthead and five minutes later one of the players came to me and said it was Vincent's 50th game.

"When Frans heard that, he said 'no ways, Vincent must start'."

READ MORE: Five Wales players to be cut from Wales squad as picture becomes clearer

READ MORE: Louis Rees-Zammit just got a huge tattoo in Cardiff and his family will love what he's done

Erasmus said he wasn't concerned about making the change, believing both Koch and Malherbe to be top performers at Test level and they are likely to give Gatland's front row a serious workout throughout the course of the 80 minutes.

“Vincent is a guy that works so hard and has got so few chances to start and we have two players that are so similar,” he added.

“But he also plays with guys and knows the guys that he will be starting with; he and Malcolm [Marx] normally come off the bench together, so it is now a combination, but it wouldn’t have been a combination if it wasn’t for his 50th.

“In short, that is how much it means to the players, we don’t want a player to come off the bench when it is his 50th game. Especially when there is nothing separating him and Frans.”

SOUTH AFRICA XV: Aphelele Fassi; Edwill van der Merwe, Jesse Kriel, Andre Estherhuizen, Makazole Mapimpi; Jordan Hendrikse, Faf de Klerk; Ox Nche, Malcolm Marx, Vincent Koch, Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert, Kwagga Smith, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Evan Roos.

Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Ntuthuko Mchunu, Frans Malherbe, Salmaan Moerat, Ben-Jason Dixon, Grant Williams, Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, Damian de Allende.

KICK-OFF V WALES AT TWICKENHAM: 2PM, SATURDAY JUNE 22.