Springbok coach Nienaber names unchanged team for semifinal against England

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber has shown faith in his match-winning Rugby World Cup quarterfinal squad by retaining the same starting XV and replacements’ bench for Saturday’s semifinal against England at the Stade de France in Paris.

The selection is the most experienced in Springbok history — with a combined total of 895 caps — with 15 of the 23 having played against England in the 32-12 victory in the World Cup final four years ago in Japan when the Boks lifted the Webb Ellis Cup for the third time.

It is only the second time that Nienaber and director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus have named an identical line-up in 64 Tests since they took charge of the team in 2018. The only other occasion was in the opening match of the 2019 tournament, which was lost 13-23 to New Zealand.

Nienaber opted for the same squad after the performance in the quarterfinal against France on Sunday in Paris when the starting XV laid a solid foundation, while the bench made a significant impact to edge the match 29-28 for a place in the semifinal.

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. The loose trio consists of Bok skipper Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen.

The replacements’ 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), Handré Pollard (flyhalf), and Willie le Roux (fullback).

“We’ve been building a quality Rugby World Cup squad for the last few years so that we could be in this position going into the knockout matches,” said Nienaber.

“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. 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 — Kolisi, Du Toit, Vermeulen, Mbonambi, Etzebeth, Malherbe, De Allende and Kolbe — started against England in the 2019 final. Another seven players from that match squad are also in the 23 — starting forwards Mostert and Kitshoff, and 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,” the coach said.

“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, André 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 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.

“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.”

Springbok XV:

15 — Damian Willemse (Stormers) — 37 caps, 56 pts (4t, 9c, 4p, 2d)

14 — Kurt-Lee Arendse (Bulls) — 13 caps, 65 pts (13t)

13 — Jesse Kriel (Eagles) — 66 caps, 75 pts (15t)

12 — Damian de Allende (Wild Knights) — 76 caps, 55 pts (11t)

11 — Cheslin Kolbe (Suntory Sungoliath) — 29 caps, 91 pts (14t, 3c, 5p)

10 — Manie Libbok (Stormers) — 13 caps, 84 pts (1t, 26c, 9p)

9 — Cobus Reinach (Montpellier) — 30 caps, 60 pts (12t)

8 — Duane Vermeulen (SA Rugby) — 74 caps, 15 pts (3t)

7 — Pieter-Steph du Toit (Toyota Verblitz) — 74 caps, 40 pts (8t)

6 — Siya Kolisi (captain, Racing 92) — 81 caps, 50 pts (10t)

5 — Franco Mostert (Honda Heat) — 71 caps, 15 pts (3t)

4 — Eben Etzebeth (Sharks) — 117 caps, 30 pts (6t)

3 — Frans Malherbe (Stormers) — 67 caps, 5pts (1t)

2 — Bongi Mbonambi (Sharks) — 66 caps, 65pts (13t)

1 — Steven Kitshoff (Ulster) — 81 caps, 10 pts (2t)

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