Handre Pollard has been handed South Africa’s number 10 jersey for their Rugby World Cup Pool B showdown against Tonga at Stade de Marseille on Sunday.
It will be Pollard’s first Test since August 2022 as Manie Libbok drops to bench duty this week, with Faf de Klerk missing from the matchday 23 altogether.
Siya Kolisi skippers again
Flanker Siya Kolisi – who will make his 50th appearance as captain – Eben Etzebeth and Jasper Wiese are retained in the starting XV for the must-win clash.
Nienaber opts a traditional bench split of five forwards and three backs, with Marco van Staden wearing the 16 shirt as replacement hooker for the first time.
For Pollard it’ll be his first Springbok appearance since playing against Australia in Adelaide before injury forced him out of the subsequent 16 Test matches.
A calf problem ruled Pollard out of the initial 33-man Rugby World Cup squad but he now partners scrum-half Cobus Reinach at half-back, while Andre Esterhuizen and Canan Moodie are reunited as a hard-running centre combination. Makazole Mapimpi and Grant Williams will line up on the wings as they did against Romania.
Deon Fourie will earn his first start in the Springbok jersey at hooker alongside props Ox Nche and Vincent Koch, with Etzebeth and Marvin Orie the locks.
The only change Nienaber makes among the back-row was at flanker, where regular number eight Duane Vermeulen wears seven alongside Kolisi and Wiese.
The most notable alteration on Nienaber’s bench was the inclusion of Van Staden at hooker, next to prop replacements Steven Kitshoff and Trevor Nyakane, while the versatile Franco Mostert and Kwagga Smith complete the forward complement on the bench. Jaden Hendrikse, Jesse Kriel and Libbok are the backline options.
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) September 27, 2023
“This is a strong and physical team, which is exactly what need against a side like Tonga that plays with passion and force,” said Springboks head coach Nienaber.
“Each one of us understands the importance of this match with an eye on qualifying for the quarter-final, so accurate execution, physicality and doing our basics right will be vital to get the desired result.”
Nienaber expected a major physical challenge from Tonga: “They will enter with the mindset that they have nothing to lose after going down in their opening two matches of the tournament, so they won’t hold back.
“They had impressive moments in their matches against Scotland and Ireland, so this will require a full 80-minute effort. The emphasis for us will be on doing what we need to do to progress out of the pool stages and to bounce back from last week and build momentum.
“We are still in the World Cup, and we know we have the players and skills to defend our title. We now need to transfer all the hard work at training into producing a top-quality performance.”
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Grant Williams, 13 Canan Moodie, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Duane Vermeulen, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Marco van Staden, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Jaden Hendrikse, 22 Jesse Kriel, 23 Manie Libbok
Date: Sunday, October 1
Venue: Stade de Marseille, Marseille
Kick-off: 21:00 local (20:00 BST, 19:00 GMT)
Referee: Luke Pearce (RFU)
Assistant Referees: Matthew Carley (RFU), Christophe Ridley (RFU)
TMO: Brett Cronan (RA)