CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Wales will debut flanker Tommy Reffell in the first test against world champion South Africa while George North returned to the lineup on Thursday for the first time since early 2021.
Veteran lock Alun Wyn Jones was named among the reserves for the opening test at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday as flyhalf Dan Biggar continues as Wales captain in his 101st test for his country.
Leicester openside Reffell is part of the back row alongside Dan Lydiate, who returned from a long injury layoff to start on the other flank. Taulupe Faletau is at No. 8.
North was named at outside center for the first of three tests against the No. 1-ranked Springboks having last pulled on a Wales jersey in the final round of the 2021 Six Nations. He’ll form a midfield partnership with Nick Tompkins.
Josh Adams and Louis Rees-Zammit are the wings and Liam Williams is at fullback.
Will Rowlands and Adam Beard were picked in the second row so Jones, the most capped rugby player in history with 162 test appearances, starts this series on the bench a year after he captained the British and Irish Lions in a 2-1 series defeat in South Africa.
Kieran Hardy was named at scrumhalf.
The 23-year-old Reffell is a former Wales Under-18 and Under-20 captain and is primed for a memorable senior debut against the world champions on their home turf. He was part of the Leicester team that won the English Premiership final at Twickenham on June 18.
“Tommy Reffell is a player we’ve been watching for some time now,” Wales coach Wayne Pivac said. “He’s been in very good form with Leicester Tigers and he’s match fit, which is important with our squad not having played a lot of rugby recently. It’s the right time for him and what a great debut to have at Loftus Versfeld.”
Loftus is sold out for the first of three tests and it will be the first time South Africa plays in front of a full home crowd since the Boks won the Rugby World Cup back in 2019.
Fans weren’t allowed at sports events at all in South Africa in 2020 and 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Stadiums were allowed only up to 50% capacity this year but those restrictions were dropped by the South African government last week and there could be more than 51,000 at Loftus.
South Africa named its team on Tuesday and will start with Elton Jantjies at flyhalf and Damian Willemse at fullback. The rest of the Springboks’ lineup is as expected and features the core of the team that won the World Cup and then beat the Lions last year. The Springboks have also packed their bench with big men; six forwards and just two backs.
“They’ve got a very big side, a six-two split on the bench,” Pivac said. “We don’t expect much change from the way they played against us previously and it’s been very effective for them. We’re expecting a very tough game.”
South Africa: Damian Willemse, Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk; Jasper Wiese, Franco Mostert, Siya Kolisi (captain), Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nché. Reserves: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Salmaan Moerat, Elrigh Louw, Kwagga Smith, Herschel Jantjies, Willie le Roux.
Wales: Liam Williams, Louis Rees-Zammit, George North, Nick Tompkins, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar (captain), Kieran Hardy; Taulupe Faletau, Tommy Reffell, Dan Lydiate, Adam Beard, Will Rowlands, Dillon Lewis, Ryan Elias, Gareth Thomas. Reserves: Dewi Lake, Rhys Carre, Tomas Francis, Alun Wyn Jones, Josh Navidi, Tomos Williams, Gareth Anscombe, Owen Watkin.
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