RWC 2023

Boks go for three backs on bench to face France in World Cup quarterfinal

Boks go for three backs on bench to face France in World Cup quarterfinal
Handrè Pollard and Springboks captain Siya Kolisi. (Photo: Steve Haag / Gallo Images)

The Boks made some surprise changes to the side to face France in Paris on Sunday at Rugby World Cup 2023.

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber selected five forwards and three backs to face France in Sunday’s Rugby World Cup quarterfinal in Saint-Denis, but brushed off suggestions that the Boks were moving away from their strengths.

Handrè Pollard, Willie le Roux and Faf de Klerk are the three backline players on the bench, in a move away from the Boks’ more usual six-two split, or even the revolutionary seven-one option.

“I know people always look at our bench because we play around with the split, but it comes down to the opposition which dictates our team selection,” Nienaber said.

“For this specific game we felt it was best for us, but we have not lost our identity. There is less risk with a five-three and for this game we believe it’s best.

“If you recall, we have won some big games with a five-three split. The last Test of the 2021 Lions series and we went with a five-three there. Morné Steyn came off the bench and kicked the series-winning penalty three. We have done it in big games before.”

Boks vs France

Manie Libbok in training with the Boks at Stade Mayol in Toulon on 6 October 2023. (Photo: Steve Haag / Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Experienced core

In all, 15 players who featured in the 2019 final will line up against France at the Stade de France in Paris on Sunday evening.

A further four players in the match-23 to face the in-form hosts were also part of the 2019 squad, while only four were not present in Japan among a team bristling with experience.

“Most of these players have Rugby World Cup experience and several of them were involved in the 2019 final, so they know what it takes to perform in big moments,” said Nienaber.

“Twenty of these players were also in the matchday squad that played France in Marseille last season, which was a good dress rehearsal for what we can expect from France and their supporters.”

Eight of Sunday’s starting XV started in the 32-12 victory over England four years ago: Siya Kolisi, who will captain the Boks again, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Duane Vermeulen, Bongi Mbonambi, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Damian de Allende and Cheslin Kolbe.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Rugby World Cup 2023

Seven other players from the 2019 final are also in the 23 – starting forwards Franco Mostert and Steven Kitshoff, as well as back replacements Willie le Roux, Pollard and De Klerk, and forward replacements RG Snyman and Vincent Koch.

The only players in the 23 who do not have a winners’ medal are Kurt-Lee Arendse, Manie Libbok and replacements Deon Fourie and Ox Nche.

Bok coach Jacques Nienaber at the the warm-up before the match against Romania at Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux on 17 September 2023. (Photo: Alex Livesey / Getty Images)

New look

The starting team shows 11 personnel changes to the side that defeated Tonga 49-18 in Marseille two weeks ago, but more pertinently, shows only two changes from the team that faced Ireland – with De Klerk moving to the bench and Vermeulen selected at No 8 in place of Jasper Wiese.

Kitshoff, Mbonambi and Malherbe will pack down in the front row, while Etzebeth and Mostert will pair up at lock, with Kolisi, Du Toit and Vermeulen forming the loose trio.

We’ve been working with most of these players since 2018 and we’ve been building a squad capable of defending our title.

In the backline, Libbok and Cobus Reinach will join forces in an exciting attacking halfback combination, with De Allende and Kriel on duty in the midfield, Kolbe and Arendse on the wings, while Damian Willemse will be at fullback.

Fourie is hooker, with Nche and Koch (both props), Snyman (lock) and Smith (loose forward).

The three backline players among the replacements are also very experienced, with a combined total of 209 caps between De Klerk, Pollard and Le Roux, who started at scrumhalf, flyhalf and fullback in Yokohama four years ago.

“We’ve been working with most of these players since 2018 and we’ve been building a squad capable of defending our title,” said Nienaber.

“We believe this group will offer us the impetus we need against a quality French side that will be playing in front of a passionate home crowd.”

Nienaber said he relished the prospect of facing the hosts at one of the world’s iconic rugby stadiums in the quarterfinal.

“It’s going to be a massive clash for the players and supporters and we’re really excited about the prospect,” he said. “We’ve been working toward this World Cup since 2018 and we can now book a place in the semifinal, so we have to go out there and give everything.

Springbok captain Siya Kolisi during the World Cup clash with Ireland at Stade de France in Paris on 23 September 2023. (Photo: Aurelien Meunier / Getty Images)

“It’s do-or-die in the tournament, so we have to be accurate in executing our game plan and we have to capitalise on our opportunities because the margins will be small.

“We know the match is going to be as intense as last year, if not more intense. We had a red card in that match but we were still in with a chance to win it with three or four minutes to go, so discipline will again be important and we’ll have to maintain our good disciplinary record.” DM

South Africa: 15-Damian Willemse, 14-Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13-Jesse Kriel, 12-Damian de Allende, 11-Cheslin Kolbe, 10-Manie Libbok, 9-Cobus Reinach, 8-Duane Vermeulen, 7-Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6-Siya Kolisi (capt), 5-Franco Mostert, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Frans Malherbe, 2-Bongi Mbonambi, 1-Steven Kitshoff

Replacements: 16-Deon Fourie, 17-Ox Nche, 18-Vincent Koch, 19-RG Snyman, 20-Kwagga Smith, 21-Faf de Klerk, 22-Handrè Pollard, 23-Willie le Roux.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Very Happy with team,couldnt have chosen better

  • Johan Buys says:

    Why Willie? He is a full-back that cannot catch a contested high ball, cannot tackle, cannot kick at posts, cannot kick for the line, and he’d much rather pass the ball to the linesman than get tackled. We could have gone with Esterhuizen (need big fast centers for France), or Moodie.

    Do we need a full front row on the bench when Deon is a flexible forward? We’re going to miss Wiese. Big, fast, fetcher and very good cross defense.

  • Mmutle Mogoboya says:

    Go Bokke! We have trust in you. Hopefully you have repaired the loopholes that were bothering you. I can’t wait, Sunday seems too far!

  • Rob Wilson says:

    This is it guys! No more speculation and guesswork. We have the best squad and best coaching we could muster so lets get behind the selection (….having long realised that Rassie and Jacques know a lot more than I do) and support the boys. Its the semi’s or not. The rest is behind us. Go Bokke!

    • Johan Buys says:

      Rob, the scary part of our depth is that is very difficult to pick 23 from what is on offer. Most teams in the world would give their left one to pick Wiese, Engelbrecht, Moodie, Am, Kleyn, etc for their starting line-up. In our squad they dont make game team! Maybe RWC after pool stages should allow full squad.

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