Rugby World Cup: Springboks spring several surprises in strong side to face France

Rugby World Cup: Springboks spring several surprises in strong side to face France

The Springboks have unveiled an eye-catching team for Sunday's do-or-die Rugby World Cup quarter-final against France in Paris, with one or two selections no doubt set to take fansby surprise.

Head coach Jacques Nienaber and Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus have named an experienced core of players, 15 of whom featured in the 2019 World Cup final four years ago, eight of which are in the starting line-up.

A further four players were part of the squad in Japan, leaving only four newcomers set to do battle at the Stade de France.

The only real surprise amongst the pack of forwards is the inclusion of Duane Vermeulen at No 8.

Vermeulen did not start against Ireland or Scotland and was handed the No 8 jersey only for the matches against Tonga and Romania, but the experienced World Cup winner has gotten the nod for the quarter-final, with Jasper Wiese falling out of the matchday 23 altogether.

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Meanwhile, the most notable shock in the backline is the omission of Faf de Klerk, who drops to the bench as Cobus Reinach gets the start - a selection few could have predicted. Reinach has plenty of experience playing in France and against French players, however, having spent the last three years with Montpellier, which may have counted in his favour.

The coaches have also not been tempted to include recent arrivals Handre Pollard and Lukhanyo Am, with Manie Libbok and Jesse Kriel retaining their places in the starting line-up at flyhalf and outside centre. Pollard is on the bench, however, and could be called upon if required.

As for the replacements, not only have the Boks not opted for a 7-1 split, they haven't even gone with a 6-2 this time around. Instead, they have opted for a more balanced approach of five forwards and three backs, with Pollard, Willie le Roux and Faf de Klerk joining a strong group of forwards.

Banking on 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.

Seven other players from the 2019 final are also in the 23 in starting forwards Franco Mostert and Steven Kitshoff, as well as back replacements Willie le Roux, Handre Pollard and Faf 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.

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.

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.

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Nienaber's bench features five forwards and three backs. Fourie serves as the impact 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 quarter-final.

"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 semi-final, so we have to go out there and give everything.

"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."

Springboks - 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, 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 Handre Pollard, 23 Willie le Roux.

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