Quintin van Jaarsveld identifies five Springbok players who’ll be in the spotlight in Saturday’s dream World Cup final against the All Blacks in Saint-Denis.
Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber have gone all in by reinstating the veteran halfback pairing that guided the Boks to glory in the previous World Cup and opting for a 7-1 split bench in favour of the forwards.
Every member of the matchday 23 will have an important role to play, but much of South Africa’s hopes of securing a record fourth world championship rest on the shoulders of the following five players:
Mbonambi has been in the spotlight all week because of allegations that he directed a racial slur towards England flank Tom Curry in last weekend’s 16-15 semi-final win.
Following an investigation, World Rugby said in a statement on Thursday there was “insufficient evidence at this time to proceed with charges”, bringing an end to the saga, but it remains to be seen if it’ll have a psychological effect on the Bok hooker.
Kantgate aside, Mbonambi wasn’t his usual clinical self-last weekend with two skew lineout throws, so the All Blacks could be planning to pile on the pressure in the set piece, and as the only specialist hooker in the squad, it’s imperative that he goes the distance.
As captain, Kolisi is the heart and soul of the Boks. A man and warrior whose mere presence lifts the team, his passion, power, experience and leadership make him a central figure and when he fires, the Boks are usually at their best.
Kolisi, by his high standards, hasn’t been at the top of his game in the World Cup and has made way in the third quarter in the semi-final win and the quarter-final triumph over France, but he’s a man for the big occasion.
South Africa’s inspirational talisman comes to the fore when it matters most, including his iconic showing in the series-levelling 27-9 win over the British & Irish Lions in 2021, so expect him to be at the peak of his powers.
Pieter-Steph du Toit
They don’t come any more hard-working and consistently colossal than Du Toit. Regardless of whether it’s a 5-3, 6-2 or 7-1 split bench, Du Toit is the ironman of the Bok pack – the tireless titan who plays the full 80 minutes week in and week out.
The 31-year-old has been South Africa’s ultimate workhorse and leads the list of unsung heroes in the side whose drive and durability have made him worth his weight in gold.
Close to the form that saw him crowned the World Player of the Year in 2019, Du Toit has one more brutal marathon to run before he gets a hard-earned rest and you can bet, he’ll leave everything out on the pitch.
Faf de Klerk
After starting on the bench in the last couple of games, De Klerk and Handre Pollard replace the duo of Cobus Reinach and Manie Libbok, who both drop out of the matchday 23 to accommodate the supersized Bomb Squad.
De Klerk’s experience is invaluable and his more accurate kicking game, particularly putting up pinpoint short-to-mid-range contestables, will make the popular blonde-locked No 9 a key cog in the green and gold machine.
Though not as fast as Reinach, De Klerk offers snappy service, has a knack for creating tries with stabbing grubbers when all other paths to the try line are dead ends and he’s a superb, supercharged defender who punches above his weight. As the only specialist scrumhalf in the team, the Boks can’t afford for him to go down with an injury.
In reuniting with De Klerk, Pollard and his long-time partner are set to start together for the 25th time and move past Joost van der Westhuizen and Henry Honiball (24 Tests) to become the most experienced halfback-pairing in Springbok history.
Pollard, as he proved once again when he slotted the match-winning penalty from 49 metres out last weekend, is Mr. BMT. He was born and bred for the big occasion and has done it time and time again over the course of his 68-Test career, including landing the decisive blow in the 2019 semi-final against Wales.
His calm demeanour, metronomic boot, reputation as a game general and tactical nous that comes with such a distinction will bring a heightened level and calmness and confidence to the team. His challenge will not only be to pilot and potentially problem-solve but do so for the full 80 minutes, something he hasn’t done for over a year due to injury issues.
South Africa: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi, (captain), 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.