South Africa will revert to a tried-and-trusted halfback pairing and gamble on a late surge of forward power in Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final in Paris, as they seek to overcome New Zealand and win back-to-back titles.
Handre Pollard, who kicked South Africa to an emphatic final victory against England in Japan in 2019, replaces Manie Libbok at flyhalf while Faf de Klerk comes in at scrumhalf in place of Cobus Reinach.
They are coach Jacques Nienaber’s only two changes from the line-up that started last Saturday’s 16-15 semi-final success over England – but he will pack the bench with seven forwards and just one back.
“A lot of things influenced our squad selection, our analysis of New Zealand and where we think we can get an edge,” Nienaber told a press conference.
The 29-year-old Pollard was brought on for Libbok after 30 minutes of the semi-final in one of several eye-catching substitutions made by the Boks’ coaches to try and get themselves back into a match that England were dominating.
In the end, Pollard proved the match winner again as he nailed a late penalty from 48 metres.
The composition of the bench, the Springboks’ third 7-1 split in the last two months, means they are gambling on fresh forwards winning them the game but risking having no cover should there be injuries among the backs.
It was a split that Nienaber first used for the 35-7 win over the All Blacks at Twickenham in their last warm-up test before the September start of the World Cup, and again in the pool stage defeat to Ireland.
The bench will have no backup scrumhalf and Nienaber said winger Cheslin Kolbe would provide cover there if De Klerk was injured.
Fifteen of the 23 players named in South Africa’s match day squad played in the final four years ago, representing considerable experience. They have a combined tally of 987 caps.
“It doesn’t get any bigger than this. It will be the biggest game of our lives,” said captain Siya Kolisi.
New Zealand, who like South Africa have won three previous World Cups, will name their team later on Thursday.
South Africa: 15-Damian Willemse, 14-Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13-Jesse Kriel, 12-Damian de Allende, 11-Cheslin Kolbe, 10-Handre Pollard, 9-Faf de Klerk, 8-Duane Vermeulen, 7-Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6-Siya Kolisi (capt.), 5-Franco Mostert, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Frans Malherbe, 2-Bongi Mbonambi, 1-Steven Kitshoff
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.