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Handre Pollard given keys to No 10 as Springboks reveal Rugby World Cup final team

Pollard replaces Manie Libbok at fly half and Faf de Klerk returns at scrum half for the crunch clash against the All Blacks in Paris

Luke Baker
in Paris
Thursday 26 October 2023 09:22 BST
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Handre Pollard starts at fly half
Handre Pollard starts at fly half (Getty Images)

South Africa’s semi-final hero Handre Pollard will start at fly half and likely go the full 80 minutes after the Springboks also named a controversial 7-1 split of forwards to backs on their bench for Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand.

Pollard emerged from the replacements after just 30 minutes of the semi-final against England as a struggling Manie Libbok was hooked early and went on to kick the decisive, 48-metre penalty on 77 minutes for the narrowest of 16-15 victories.

The 29-year-old also scored 22 points in the 2019 World Cup final, when England were again defeated 32-12, and he is reunited with long-time half-back partner Faf de Klerk, who comes in for Cobus Reinach as the only other change to the starting XV from a week ago. The pair will start together as half-backs for the Springboks for a record 25th time, surpassing Joost van der Westhuizen and Henry Honiball for the most in South African rugby history.

For the third time in the last two months, head coach Jacques Nienaber has elected to go with the controversial 7-1 bench split. It allows them to demonstrate their impressive forward depth by bringing an almost entirely new pack off the bench but back-three star Willie Le Roux is the only backline cover.

That means De Klerk and Pollard will likely be expected to play a full 80 minutes, with winger Cheslin Kolbe or even flanker Kwagga Smith the scrum-half cover should De Klerk go down injured.

After World Rugby found there was “insufficient evidence to proceed with charges” amid the racial slur allegations made by Tom Curry, hooker Bongi Mbonambi is free to play in the final and has been selected in the No 2 shirt. As the only specialist hooker in the squad, he has played a full 80 minutes for both knockout games so far and may need to do so again, although back row Deon Fourie – who played the position earlier in his career – is in the No 16 shirt traditionally worn by the replacement hooker, so may well step in.

Fifteen of the 23 players named in South Africa’s squad played in the final four years and the 987 caps in the starting XV sets the record for the most experienced Springboks side in history, with the back three of Kolbe (30 caps), Kurt-Lee Arendse (14) and Damian Willemse (38) the only players in the run-on team with fewer than 50 Test appearances.

The Springboks have a similar team to the final four years ago (Reuters)

The only enforced change among the replacements is at prop where Trevor Nyakane replaces Vincent Koch, who is nursing a knee injury, while lock Jean Kleyn and No 8 Jasper Wiese are also drafted in as additional forward cover.

“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.”

The winner of Saturday’s clash between the Springboks and the All Blacks will become the first team to win four men’s Rugby World Cup titles.

South Africa XV: 15. Damian Willemse, 14. Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13. Jesse Kriel, 12. Damian de Allende, 11. Cheslin Kolbe, 10. Handre Pollard, 9. Faf de Klerk; 1. Steven Kitshoff, 2. Bongi Mbonambi, 3. Frans Malherbe, 4. Eben Etzebeth, 5. Franco Mostert, 6. Siya Kolisi (captain), 7. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 8. Duane Vermeulen.

Replacements: 16. Deon Fourie, 17. Ox Nche, 18. Trevor Nyakane, 19. Jean Kleyn, 20. RG Snyman, 21. Kwagga Smith, 22. Jasper Wiese, 23. Willie Le Roux

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