Boks spring selection surprises for France quarter final

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South Africa have sprung selection surprises for Sunday’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final against France, naming a new halfback pairing of Manie Libbok and Cobus Reinach, veteran Duane Vermeulen at number eight and only five forwards on the bench.

Coach Jacques Nienaber had several selection conundrums ahead of the game against the hosts at the Stade de France, with the most anticipated being the choice of flyhalf and in naming his side on Friday gave an early nod to Libbok despite misgivings about his kicking ability.

He is selected over Handre Pollard, who is seen as much more reliable with his boot but not as innovative in the pivot post.

“If you look at the way he drives the team, he’s obviously on form,” Nienaber said of Libbok. “If Handre hadn’t been injured at the start of the World Cup he probably would have been there.”

Reinach comes in for Faf de Klerk at scrumhalf, as Nienaber looks to counter what he predicted would be a kicking game from the French.

“Cobus is also in form and playing good rugby. The one thing that’s probably a little bit different about this French side is their kicking game. They have made no bones about preferring not to play with the ball, they give you the ball and then try and suffocate with a very good defensive system that forces errors.

“So, you have to find strategies around that and that probably talks to our team selection,” the coach told a press conference on Friday.

The 37-year-old Vermeulen was chosen ahead of Jasper Wiese at the base of the scrum in another surprise, which means Sunday’s line-up is the second most-capped Springbok selection. The total of 880 caps is just behind the 891 caps that ran out against Samoa at the World Cup in 2015.


After picking seven forwards among the replacements for their previous game, another huge clash against Ireland, Nienaber has gone with a 5-3 split of forwards to backs, marking a tweak for a side whose forward replacements have consistently swung the outcome of matches.

“For this specific game, we felt that 5-3 is a best for us. We’ve played around with various combination but it’s not like we haven’t used a 5-3 split before. This is what we had for our last big final, which was against the British & Irish Lions two years ago.”


South Africa: 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 (capt), 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.