RWC 2023

Boks make a huge statement of intent as they go 7/1 against Ireland

Boks make a huge statement of intent as they go 7/1 against Ireland
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber. (Photo: David Rogers / Getty Images)

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber named seven forwards and only one back on his bench for Saturday’s crunch Rugby World Cup 2023 Pool B clash in Paris.

As statements of intent go, Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber might as well have WhatsApp-ed Ireland coach Andy Farrell and challenged him to a fight in the car park. 

Nienaber’s decision to flood his bench with seven forwards and only one back as cover is like West Indian great Viv Richards going to the coin toss against England in shorts and flip-flops and coming out to bat in a cap. Richards was saying: “You don’t intimidate me, I intimidate you.” Nienaber’s Boks are sending the same message with a powerful Bomb Squad. 

This has never been done before. Well, it has, but that was by the Boks a month ago, and it was a late decision when Willie le Roux was injured in the warm-up before they met the All Blacks at Twickenham. The Boks won that match 35-7. 

This is the first time an international team, three days out from a Test, has taken such an extreme position. And bloody hell, it’s fun. 

Siya Kolisi of South Africa is tackled by Duhan van der Merwe of Scotland during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between South Africa and Scotland at Stade Vélodrome on 10 September 2023 in Marseille, France. (Photo: David Rogers / Getty Images)

Free hit? 

The Boks’ 18-3 victory over Scotland and their 76-0 thrashing of Romania in their opening two matches at RWC 2023 means they have a virtual free hit against Ireland to try this. If the experiment fails and they lose, they should still progress to the quarterfinals with a five-point haul against Tonga in their final pool match. 

If they beat Ireland with 15 forwards and eight backs, they might seriously damage Irish minds and send warning shots to future opponents. It’s not supposed to be like this, which is why it’s so enjoyable. 

It probably verges on cocky, but it is also a calculated gamble. The Boks are playing to their strengths with acceptable risk. 

Of course, this plan could backfire horribly with some early backline injuries or red cards, but at least it isn’t boring. Because flank Kwagga Smith, a former Blitzbok, is so mobile, the Boks are able to gamble with this ploy. 

And by going this route, Nienaber has loaded the bench with breakdown specialists. Deon Fourie, the reserve hooker, is actually an openside flank. Marco van Staden, the third-choice hooker, is also an openside flank. And Smith, the emergency backline cover, is an openside flank. There is a trend here. 

Throw in the skills of Siya Kolisi, Jasper Wiese and Steven Kitshoff over the ball, and Ireland’s technical department could be rethinking their plans for this game. Pace and movement might be a way to combat the Bok power and breakdown aggression, but no guarantee.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Rugby World Cup 2023

Eben Etzebeth, Ireland vs South Africa

Eben Etzebeth of South Africa celebrates victory at full time after the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match against Scotland on 10 September at Stade Vélodrome in Marseille. (Photo: Franco Arland / Quality Sport Images / Getty Images)


Given the versatility of the backline as well, this approach just about works. 

Damian Willemse, starting at fullback, can play flyhalf and inside centre. Wing Cheslin Kolbe can play flyhalf, as can scrumhalf Faf de Klerk. 

Inside centre Damien de Allende can operate at outside centre, wing Kurt-Lee Arendse also plays fullback and reserve scrumhalf Cobus Reinach is comfortable at wing. Versatility might be this team’s greatest strength. 

Cobus Reinach of South Africa scores a try during the Rugby World Cup 2023 Pool B match between South Africa and Romania at Stade de Bordeaux on 17 September 2023 in Bordeaux, France. (Photo: Juan Jose Gasparini / Gallo Images)

Reinach was exceptional against Romania. His three tries were well taken, but it was his line kicking that caught the eye and probably elevated him in the halfback pecking order. 

The match also sees the return of Eben Etzebeth at lock after recovering from a shoulder injury while Jean Kleyn and RG Snyman are second-row reserves on the bench. 

In all, there are 13 changes from the starting side that beat Romania as the clear distinction between the “A” and the “B” teams becomes clearer. 

“Ireland are a quality team with a strong pack of forwards and talented backs, and they play with a lot of speed, so we know what we have to do to deliver a top-drawer performance for things to go our way,” Nienaber said.  

“We faced them late last year and we’ve been keeping an eye on their performances this year, so everyone knows what we have to do this weekend. 

“We’re fortunate to have a match-fit squad and have been building depth and versatility for a while and believe this is the best combination for this match. For many of these players, this is their second or third World Cup, so they know what it takes to perform at this level, and we believe this team has the right balance of players to achieve what we would like to achieve in this match. 

“We know it’s going to be a grind of a match and we know we need to pitch up physically and mentally. We also need to start with intensity and stay focused until the final whistle. 

“This is a massive game for both sides with an eye to progressing out of our pool, so we need to be extremely accurate in all areas of our game.” 

Nienaber brushed off suggestions that his Irish links and those of SA Rugby’s director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus, and assistant coach Felix Jones, as well as those of Kleyn and Snyman, both of whom currently ply their trade at Munster, gave either side a special advantage. 

“The teams have been facing one another for years, and just as they know us, we know them,” he said. “At the end of the day, both teams have immense respect for one another, and while this aspect may be entertaining for the fans, the match will come down to who plays the most effective rugby on the day.” 

Of the six-day turnaround for this match, Nienaber said: “We’ve known for a long time that we would have a shorter turnaround for this match, and we planned accordingly in terms of training and team selection for the last two games. The early kick-off against Romania also assisted as we had the whole night on Sunday to begin our recovery, so we are ready for what lies ahead.” DM 

Springboks to play Ireland

15 Damian Willemse, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff. Reserves: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Jean Kleyn, 20 RG Snyman, 21 Marco van Staden, 22 Kwagga Smith, 23 Cobus Reinach.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    I like the team,let’s hope it pays off.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Really hope we don’t get any backline injuries on Sunday! Very risky selection, paying huge compliments to Ireland,l let’s hope it pays off!

  • Colleen Dardagan says:

    Can’t wait!

  • A Green says:

    Imagine the breakdown menace if Kwagga actually takes the wing…

  • bernhardik says:

    If I was Ireland I would put in 7 backs as reserves,as a few injuries are inevitable playing against so many flanks . Flanks are fast and hard tacklers . Ireland rely on a fast backing which will come up against a fast flank attack from South Africa. Everyone knows what flanks are capable of ,ask Ruben Kruger,and speed is their main weapon in defense. So Ireland should have a lot of backup on fly half and centre to get their wings moving . 🤔

  • Brian Kritzinger says:

    Slightly off topic, but DM enquire with Nike as to why it is that there is not a single replica Springbok jersey to be had in any store, anywhere? I believe they are also restricting the stores that can sell the jersey to protect their profits? Perhaps its time to support local manufacturers, even if they might be considered “fake” – this is disgraceful of Nike.

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      Yeah, they were talking about it on the radio the other day. Nike has ‘preferred’ distributors (read large corporate ones), so they’ve given the middle finger to small and independent outlets.

  • Steven Burnett says:

    This is such a pivotal game. Win it and first prize is almost definitely a QF against and AllBlacks side short on fear factor, get past that and the SF will be a relative doddle into the final. Lose and you’re looking at facing a much more scary France at home, and then will we be happy with an exit there? We have the option to grind out a win and increase the odds on making that final, so it’s not really a “free hit” as Craig labels it. 6-2 is a always a risk, 7-1 is a massive gamble and the RasNaber brainstrust are not always going to land on red.

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