Etzebeth, Whiteley back as South Africa boost pack

Lock forward Eben Etzebeth returns to the South Africa team for the Rugby Championship opener against Argentina after a nine-month injury absence

South Africa have recalled forwards Eben Etzebeth and Warren Whiteley after long injury absences for their Rugby Championship opener against Argentina in Durban Saturday.

Lock Etzebeth last wore the green and gold nine months ago against Wales and missed the entire Super Rugby season due to shoulder and back injuries.

Springboks coach Johan 'Rassie' Erasmus dismissed fears that the Western Stormer would be rusty for the clash with the Pumas at Kings Park stadium.

"Eben is ready to go," he stressed. "He is fit and strong and has been functional for a while at our training camp."

The absence of number eight Whiteley with various injuries stretches even further back -- to June last year when he was a late withdrawal from a Test against France.

Whiteley did, however, captain eventual runners-up the Golden Lions in the closing stages of the recently-ended Super Rugby campaign.

Hooker Malcolm Marx, another forward who missed the 2-1 series win over England two months ago through injury, is also recalled for the first-round Test.

A fourth personnel change among the forwards from the team beaten by England in a dead-rubber sees veteran Francois Louw drafted into the back row.

Etzebeth, Whiteley, Marx and Louw replace Chiliboy Ralepelle, RG Snyman, Franco Mostert and Duane Vermeulen, who is unavailable because of his contract with a Japanese club.

There are also two positional switches in the pack with captain Siya Kolisi moving from the open side to the blind side in the back row.

To accommodate Louw from English Premiership club Bath, Du Toit takes over from Mostert in the second row.

Inside centre Andre Esterhuizen, winger Aphiwe Dyantyi and scrum-half Faf de Klerk keep their places from the backline that failed to sparkle when losing to England.

Injuries ruled out full-back Warrick Gelant and winger Sibusiso Nkosi and Willie le Roux and Makazole Mapimpi fill their roles.

Outside centre Jesse Kriel and fly-half Elton Jantjies have been dropped from the matchday 23 with Lukhanyo Am and Handre Pollard coming into the team.

While there are no new caps in the starting line-up, fly-half Damian Willemse and flanker Marco van Staden are poised to make Test debuts off the bench.

The bookmakers have installed South Africa as 1/14 favourites to win with Argentina, who lost all six Rugby Championship matches last season, a 13/2 shot.

Team (15-1)

Willie le Roux; Makazole Mapimpi, Lukhanyo Am, Andre Esterhuizen, Aphiwe Dyantyi; Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Warren Whiteley, Siya Kolisi (capt), Francois Louw; Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth; Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Tendai Mtawarira

Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff, Thomas du Toit, Marvin Orie, Marco van Staden, Embrose Papier, Lionel Mapoe, Damian Willemse

Coach: Johan 'Rassie' Erasmus (RSA)