Boks unchanged for World Cup semi against England as they opt for continuity
The Springboks opted for continuity for Saturday’s Rugby World Cup semi-final against England at the Stade de France.
If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber has opted to retain the same 23-man squad for the Rugby World Cup 2023 semi-final against England.
This is the first time in 2023 that the Boks are unchanged and only the second time in 64 Tests since 2018 that the 23-man is the same in consecutive weeks.
This is the most experienced in Springbok starting XV in history — with a combined total of 895 caps. Fifteen of the 23 had played against England in the 32-12 victory in the RWC final four years ago in Japan when the Boks lifted the Webb Ellis Cup for the third time.
“Everyone had a proper performance (against France in last week’s quarterfinal), as individuals and a team, so we decided to go with continuity. There were also no injuries, so there was no reason to change,” Nienaber said.
“The World Cup is a long tournament which is why we went with rotation early on. The quarterfinal team looked a lot like the team that lined up against Ireland and the other part of the squad got exposure in the Tonga game, which the players told us was very physical.
“Physicality is like any component of conditioning, and you need to get used to it. We will need that exposure going into the England match.”
Manie Libbok and Cobus Reinach will control play at halfback, with centres Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel returning with a back three of Cheslin Kolbe, Kurt-Lee Arendse and Damian Willemse.
Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe and Bongi Mbonambi will pack down in the front row, with locks Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert behind them, and the loose trio of Bok skipper Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen completing the forward pack.
The bench features forwards Deon Fourie (hooker/flanker), Ox Nche and Vincent Koch (props), RG Snyman (lock), Kwagga Smith (loose forward), and three backs in Faf de Klerk (scrumhalf), Handrè Pollard (flyhalf), and Willie le Roux (fullback).
“We have a squad of 33 players, all of whom are very closely matched in terms of their skill and quality of play which made it tempting to make changes this week and it was tough to select this group both last week and this week,” Nienaber said. “But we feel it’s now time to go with the players in the squad who we believe are in their best form.”
Nienaber noted that eight of the team started against England in the 2019 final (Kolisi, Du Toit, Vermeulen, Mbonambi, Etzebeth, Malherbe, De Allende and Kolbe) while another seven other players from that match are also in the 23 (starting forwards Mostert and Kitshoff, as well as back replacements Le Roux, Pollard and De Klerk, and forward replacements Snyman and Koch).
“This may not have much significance, but the fact remains that these players have been here before, and they know what it will take to defeat a top-quality team such as England,” said Nienaber.
“Competition for places in the team is very tight and the coaches had a few in-depth discussions before finalising the team.
“We have players like Lukhanyo Am, Canan Moodie, Andre Esterhuizen, Jasper Wiese, Jean Kleyn, and the list goes on, who are all good enough to be in this team and would have fitted in and done the job just as well as the other players.
“But we can only select 23 and everyone in this group is aligned and understands that the country comes first,” said Nienaber.
“We are playing for our friends, family and the 60 million people at home who have been supporting us through thick and thin and we are determined to continue giving them hope and something to smile about.”
Kolisi, who will lead the Boks, believes England will want to atone for losing the 2019 RWC final 32-12 to the Boks.
“England will have thought about that 2019 final and they have really improved,” Kolisi said.
“But our motivation doesn’t come from the opposition, it comes from within. It is always constant — to play for one another, to play for the jersey and to play for the people back home.
“We don’t see ourselves as favourites because we know how good England is. We’ve never been like that. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, they are the most important team that week.
“There is so much work to do that you don’t have time to think about it too much. We have a process that doesn’t change. The days are the same as they were before and we follow the process and the system.”
Nienaber said he expected a challenge from England: “They come off five victories in a row and they are high on confidence. They have a quality pack and world-class backs who can create magic on the field, and those who are writing them off are making a major mistake.
“Like us, they are one game away from a World Cup final and we’ve seen through the history of the tournament that England raise their game for these matches. If we lose, we have to play the third-place playoff — which no team wants to do.
“We are closely matched in terms of average player age and caps, both teams are used to playing on the biggest stage. This is do-or-die if either of them wants to the lift the trophy next week, so neither side will give an inch.” 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, 1-Steven Kitshoff, 2-Bongi Mbonambi, 3-Frans Malherbe, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 5-Franco Mostert, 6-Siya Kolisi, 7-Pieter-Steph du Toit, 8-Duane Vermeulen
Replacements: 16-Deon Fourie, 17-Ox Nche, 18-Vincent Koch, 19-RG Snyman, 20-Kwagga Smith, 21-Faf de Klerk, 22-Handre Pollard, 23-Willie Le Roux.