Nienaber’s Boks ‘Dad’s Army’ boasts world of experience

19 October 2023 - 12:08
By Liam Del Carme in Paris
Springbok captain Siya Kolisi during a training session at Stade Omnisports des Fauvettes in Domont, Paris on Tuesday.
Image: Steve Haag/Gallo Images Springbok captain Siya Kolisi during a training session at Stade Omnisports des Fauvettes in Domont, Paris on Tuesday.

For only the second time in 64 Tests in the Rassie Erasmus/Jacques Nienaber era the Springbok team has been left unchanged.

The Springboks will deploy their most experienced team ever when they take on England in their Rugby World Cup semifinal at Stade de France on Saturday (9pm).

The team Nienaber assembled has a combined 895 Test caps — four more than the 891 against Samoa in Birmingham in 2015.

They are grizzled and well-travelled and some may be tempted to call the team “Dad's Army”, especially after captain Siya Kolisi's reference that 15 children run around the team hotel when they return from training.

Perhaps more importantly, the Boks team will feature 15 of the 23 who beat England in the World Cup final four years ago. As pertinent perhaps, nine players who started in their 27-13 victory over England in London last year are back in the starting line-up, though Franco Mostert played flank and Damian Willemse played flyhalf on that occasion. They are in the second row and fullback this time.

Given burgeoning form and an absence of injuries, Boks head coach Nienaber said it was time to yield to continuity. The unchanged team is perhaps a statement of intent by South Africa. Though they would never say so publicly, they go into the match favourites and by naming an unchanged squad they threw down the gauntlet to England, who name their team later on Thursday.

Everyone who played on Sunday had a proper performance,” said Nienaber about the quarterfinal win over France. “As individuals and as a team. They played quite well together. There were no injuries. So we decided to go with continuity.”

On whether a six-day turnaround and the physical toll exacted on the players factored into the selection process, Nienaber said the World Cup is a long tournament.

That is why we rotated [earlier in the tournament]. The Tonga game was probably one of the most physical games our players played in. The one group got nice exposure to the physicality against Ireland and then the other part of the squad got it against Tonga.

If we rotated, maybe we would have started with Jasper [Wiese] or André [Esterhuizen]. They have both been player of the year in England. They were the top performers in the English league, so you look at things like that. The gap between the guys is small. They know it, we are open and honest.”

Wiese has clearly lost his grip on the No 8 jersey at this World Cup. He was the Boks' go-to eighthman with Duane Vermeulen identified as a player who would be required to make an impact off the bench.

Wiese who was in the starting team in the past 11 matches he played for the Boks, has for the second week been unable to crack a spot in the 23.

Nienaber explained some of the criteria applied to whittle down the squad to the one that will take the field on Saturday.

With an older team you gain experience. You also sometimes lose continuity through injury, because they are a little older and their bodies have had a few knocks more. At the start of 2022 we were 66% to 70% sure of what this team would look like.

The one consistent was, they had to produce. The road maps must show you are working, you are getting better at your fundamentals.”

The Boks have clearly ticked those boxes.

Springbok team to play England — Damian Willemse; Kurt-Lee Arendse, Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende, Cheslin Kolbe; Manie Libbok, Cobus Reinach; Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (captain); Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth; Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff. Replacements: Deon Fourie, Ox Nche, Vincent Koch, RG Snyman, Kwagga Smith; Faf de Klerk, Handré Pollard, Willie le Roux.