Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber made only two changes to his starting team for Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final, recalling the 2019 final halfback pairing of Handré Pollard and Faf de Klerk to the run-on side, making them the most capped nine-and-ten combination in Springbok history.
The pair start together for the 25th time, moving past Joost van der Westhuizen and Henry Honiball (24 Tests), to make them the most experienced halfbacks in Springbok history.
They are among a starting team which features 10 players who started in the RWC final four years ago and is the most experienced in Springbok history with a combined total of 987 caps (eclipsing the record set the previous week against Egland of 895 Test caps).
A further four players on the bench also featured in the match-23 in the final at Yokohama Stadium, while 15 of the players in the squad appeared in the Springboks’ 35-7 victory the last time South Africa and New Zealand met at Twickenham in August.
Only two players in Nienaber’s forward pack did not start the 2019 final – lock Franco Mostert and prop Steven Kitshoff – with both playing off the bench four years ago. Mostert is paired once again with Eben Etzebeth, while Kitshoff partners hooker Bongi Mbonambi and prop Frans Malherbe in the front row.
Springbok captain Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit (both flankers) and Duane Vermeulen (No 8) will again unite in an impactful loose trio.
In the backline, Pollard and De Klerk – who started on the replacements’ bench in the semi-final against England and the quarter-final against France – replace the duo of Manie Libbok and Cobus Reinach, who both drop out of the 23 to accommodate a split of seven forwards and one back on the bench.
The rest of the backline remains unchanged with Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel patrolling the midfield and the back three of Cheslin Kolbe, Kurt-Lee Arendse (both wings) and Damian Willemse (fullback) further sparking the backline.
No 8 Jasper Wiese and lock Jean Kleyn are drafted onto the bench, having been among the non-playing squad last week.
The only enforced change among the replacements is at prop where Trevor Nyakane replaces Vincent Koch, who is nursing a knee injury. He joins Ox Nche and Deon Fourie as front-row cover, while the Munster duo of RG Snyman and Kleyn will serve as the back-up locks, and Kwagga Smith and Wiese the back-up loose forwards.
The backline player on the bench is fullback Willie le Roux.
“This is an experienced team with several players who played in the last Rugby World Cup final and who know exactly what to expect at Stade de France on Saturday and what it will take to retain the title,” said Nienaber.
“The players who will be playing in their first World Cup final have also proven their worth as warriors throughout this campaign and they are all ready for this massive occasion.
“We have said many times that we pick teams for varying gameplans depending on the opponent and that we use all 23 players to try and achieve those goals.
“We’ve gone from a five-three bench split to a seven-one split to give us the best chance of being successful. We have plans in place to mitigate for injuries in the backline, but we’re excited about our plan and we embrace the risk.”
Nienaber thanked the non-playing members of the squad for their contribution to a season-long campaign which has seen the coaches manage the load and develop combinations among 42 players in 12 matches.
“This a huge day for the entire squad – and the guys who played for us earlier in the season,” he said.
“As a coaching team we are proud of the contribution that every player in the larger squad made in getting us to the final to create this opportunity.
“We know we are in for a colossal battle. Every point and inch will count in this match and we know it will take another top-class effort to come out on top on Saturday.”
Nienaber stressed the importance of taking every point-scoring chance that is created while delivering a powerful and accurate performance in the set pieces and on defence. He said the squad was focused on making the country and the team’s 60 million plus supporters proud this weekend.
“The messages of support and videos from home have inspired us immensely and we know the magnitude of this occasion, not just for the players and management – who have made huge sacrifices to get us here – but for what this day means for our country,” said Nienaber.
“We are proud of the fact that we have given some hope and excitement to so many people in the last few months, and we’ll give everything to bring further joy to our wonderful nation on Saturday.”
The Bok coach expected a powerful onslaught from the All Blacks and said they posed threats in every aspect of the game: “Matches between the Springboks and All Blacks are always special and hard-fought, and with this being a World Cup final, the rivalry is expected to be more intense. They have an experienced squad with a physical pack and a backline that can create magic from nothing, so we’ll have to be at our best on attack and defence to get the result.”
Springbok team to face New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup final:
15 – Damian Willemse (DHL Stormers) – 38 caps, 56 pts (4t, 9c, 4p, 2d)
14 – Kurt-Lee Arendse (Vodacom Bulls) – 14 caps, 65 points (13t)
13 – Jesse Kriel (Canon Eagles) – 67 caps, 75 points (15t)
12 – Damian de Allende (Wild Knights) – 77 caps, 55 points (11t)
11 – Cheslin Kolbe (Suntory Sungoliath) – 30 caps, 91 points (14t, 3c, 5p)
10 – Handré Pollard (Leicester Tigers) – 68 caps, 686 points (7t, 96c, 148p, 5dg)
9 – Faf de Klerk (Canon Eagles) – 54 caps, 50 points (5t, 5c, 5pg)
8 – Duane Vermeulen (SA Rugby) – 75 caps, 15 pts (3t)
7 – Pieter-Steph du Toit (Toyota Verblitz) 75 caps, 40 points (8t)
6 – Siya Kolisi (captain – Racing 92) – 82 caps, 50 points (10t)
5 – Franco Mostert (Honda Heat, Japan) – 72 caps, 15 points (3t)
4 – Eben Etzebeth (Hollywoodbets Sharks) – 118 caps, 30 points (6t)
3 – Frans Malherbe (DHL Stormers) – 68 caps, 5 points (1t)
2 – Bongi Mbonambi (Hollywoodbets Sharks) – 67 caps, 65 points (13t)
1 – Steven Kitshoff (Ulster) – 82 caps, 10 points (2t)
16 – Deon Fourie (DHL Stormers) – 12 caps, 10 pts (2t)
17 – Ox Nche (Hollywoodbets Sharks) – 27 caps, 0 pts
18 – Trevor Nyakane (Racing 92) – 66 caps, 5 pts (1t)
19 – Jean Kleyn (Munster) – 6 caps, 0 pts (Ireland 5 caps)
20 – RG Snyman (Munster) – 33 caps, 10 points (2t)
21 – Kwagga Smith (Shizuoka Blue Revs) – 39 caps, 35 pts (7t)
22 – Jasper Wiese (Leicester Tigers) – 26 caps, 5 pts (1t)
23 – Willie le Roux (Vodacom Bulls) – 92 caps, 75 pts (15t)