Manie Libbok will get another chance to start at fly half
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South Africa have opted for a new-look half-back pairing to take on France in their blockbuster Rugby World Cup quarter-final.
In a minor surprise, Cobus Reinach starts ahead of Faf de Klerk at scrum half with Manie Libbok keeping hold of the No 10 jersey, despite an expectation that the experience and superior goal-kicking of Handre Pollard might be preferred. De Klerk and Pollard are both on the bench in a more conventional 5-3 split of forwards to back, eschewing the controversial 7-1 split from earlier in the tournament.
While Libbok is the more explosive fly half in open play and his creativity makes the Springbok attack click, questions about his kicking were raised ahead of the World Cup. He has failed to quash those at the tournament, with missed kicks costing them during the defeat to Ireland in particular.
Pollard is more reliable from the tee and, having recovered from injury, his late call-up to the squad had many expecting him to be given the start given the fine margins of knockout rugby. But head coach Jacques Nienaber is confident he has made the right decision.
“The big thing with Handre [Pollard] is the injury,” said Nienaber. “He was out for about 20 weeks and if he wasn’t, things might have looked different. We’re slowly building him up since injury.
“But Manie [Libbok] is our in-form fly half. I think we’ve only lost one game this year with him starting at 10. He’s in form and the team performs when he’s the starting fly half. You look at the way Manie drives the team, his point of difference in the games he’s started at 10 for us, we scored four tries to one – we score tries with him in there.”
Aside from Libbok, the Springboks have largely opted for an experienced team, with 15 of the matchday squad having played in the 2019 World Cup final where they defeated England.
Manie Libbok’s kicking will come under scrutiny in the quarter-final against France
“We’ve been working with most of these players since 2018 and we’ve been building a squad capable of defending our title,” added 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.”
Damian Willemse cements his place as first-choice full back, forming a back three with Kurt-Lee Arendse and Cheslin Kolbe, while Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel continue their midfield partnership.
Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi and Frans Malherbe are the starting front row, although Deon Fourie, Ox Nche and Vincent Koch will comprise a formidable ‘bomb squad’ off the bench. Duane Vermeulen is also given the nod at No 8, with Kwagga Smith among the replacements.
Nienaber has resisted the temptation to draft centre Lukhanyo Am straight into the team after he was called up as an injury replacement for Makazole Mapimpi, having recovered from an injury of his own but short of match fitness.
“The whole team selection was quite tough,” said Nienaber. “We’ve had ability to manage players and rotate and get us into the knockout stages.
“We didn’t feel we could go for Lukhanyo above Jesse [Kriel] – but there’s no reason why he might not get selected in the semi-final. The squad we’ve selected will match the strengths and maybe exploit the weaknesses of France. Not that there are a lot of weaknesses when you get to knockouts.”
South Africa starting XV: 15 Damian Willemse; 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe; 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Cobus Reinach; 1 Steven Kitshoff, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 3 Frans Malherbe; 4 Eben Etzebeth, 5 Franco Mostert; 6 Siya Kolisi, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 8 Duane Vermeulen.
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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