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Boks’ ‘bomb squad’ returns for Rugby Championship finale against Pumas

Boks’ ‘bomb squad’ returns for Rugby Championship finale against Pumas
Jacques Nienaber (Head Coach) of South Africa during the South Africa men's national rugby team announcement media conference at Beverly Hills Hotel on September 20, 2022 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images)

The Springboks have reverted to type for what will be a Rugby Championship decider against Argentina in Durban on Saturday.

The famous ‘bomb squad’ is back for the deciding contest of the 2022 Rugby Championship when the Springboks take on Argentina in Durban on Saturday.

Coach Jacques Nienaber has returned to a six/two split between forwards and back on the bench after two weeks of the more traditional five/three split.

It was in part forced on him, with all three frontline flyhalves — Handre Pollard, Damian Willemse and Elton Jantjies — out of contention through injury and personal issues. It means Frans Steyn starts at a Test at flyhalf for the first time since 2008.

But it also meant that without a recognised pivot available, a return to the forwards heavy bench — the ‘bomb squad’ — was always likely.

The starting XV, besides Steyn, has a familiar ring to it. Flank Pieter-Steph du Toit is recalled to start. Franco Mostert, whose tireless unsung work at blindside flank in the past few weeks has underpinned much of what has been good about the Bok performances, is moved to the bench for this one. That is the only other change to the starting XV.

It means that Faf de Klerk and a returning Kurt-Lee Arendse are the only backs on the bench. De Klerk is the nominated flyhalf reserve while Arendse can play wing or fullback and even centre, where the Bulls have deployed him in the past.

Nienaber has managed to cover all his bases in the backline with two subs, although it would be far from ideal if Steyn were injured early in the match and De Klerk was forced into flyhalf prematurely.

While the backline is one serious injury away from crisis, there are no such problems in the pack.

The bench is laden with proven class, power and menace. No 8 Duane Vermeulen returns to the 23 after missing last week’s 36-20 win over the Pumas in Buenos Aires. Mostert, flank Kwagga Smith, prop Vincent Koch and returning hooker Bongi Mbonambi are all World Cup winners. And prop reserve Ox Nche is a Lions series winner. It’s an impressive lineup.

And it has to be because the Boks will almost certainly need a bonus point victory to have a chance of winning the Rugby Championship. And more than likely, if the All Blacks secure a win over the Wallabies in Auckland, the Boks will also need to beat the Pumas by a heavy margin.

“We know what challenges Argentina will pose and we feel that this (six/two split) would be the best option for us for this match specifically,” Nienaber said.

“We have a group of hungry and talented players serving in the bomb squad this week and every player in the match day squad knows what is expected of them if we want to win the Rugby Championship.”


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Knowing the landscape

The only small consolation for the home team is that by the time they kick off, at 17:05 on Saturday afternoon, they will have clarity on their task.

For Argentina, winning their first Rugby Championship title is probably out of reach, but winning in South Africa for a second time will be their target. And of all the stadiums, King’s Park in Durban is a place with a positive history.

In 2015, the Pumas secured their first-ever win over the Boks with a comprehensive and deserved 37-25 victory.

Bok captain Siya Kolisi, Du Toit, Koch, locks Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager, centres Jesse Kriel and Damian de Allende and fullback Willie le Roux, all played that day.

Damian De Allende in action during the Boks' Rugby Championship clash with the Pumas

Damian De Allende of South Africa runs with the ball and is tackled by Tomas Lavanini of Argentina during The Rugby Championship 2022 match between Argentina and South Africa at Estadio Libertadores de America on September 17, 2022 in Avellaneda, Argentina. (Photo: Juan Jose Gasparini/Gallo Images)

But last week the Boks were too good for the Pumas in front of a hostile crowd, particularly in the first half when they ran into a 22-6 lead. If they can play as well for longer this week, there should be no upsets in the making.

“We showed in the first half last week what we are capable of and our fighting spirit in the dying minutes was admirable,” said Nienaber.

“That made it easy for us to opt for continuity in selection in the starting lineup. Obviously, the one change was injury-enforced as Damian Willemse has been ruled out due to concussion, and we were pleased with the calmness Frans Steyn brought at flyhalf when Damian left the field.

“The energy and enthusiasm Pieter-Steph has been showing at training has also been great, and we know what he is capable of in this loose trio, so I am sure he will make an impact among the loose forwards.”

With the match essentially a final, Nienaber admitted that his team were ready for a tough battle, especially with Argentina and Australia also still mathematically in the title race depending on the outcome of the two matches.

“We viewed last week as a semi-final and this week as a final, but Argentina are a team that do not give an inch, and they never stop fighting as we saw last week,” said Nienaber. 

“They defeated New Zealand away from home against the odds and they registered a convincing victory against Australia at home, so we know we are in for a massive battle.

“There will be a few keys to victory this week, and these include set piece dominance, using our opportunities and ensuring that we do the right things in specific areas of the field.

“It is all or nothing for us this week, and we have a team with several players who have won the Rugby World Cup and the British & Irish Lions Series, so they know it will take nothing less than a quality 80-minute effort to win this match and the competition.” DM

Springboks team:

15 Willie le Roux, 14 Canan Moodie, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Frans Steyn, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff.

Reserves: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Duane Vermeulen, 21 Kwagga Smith, 22 Faf de Klerk, 23 Kurt-Lee Arendse.

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