Preview: South Africa v USA

Date published: October 6 2015

The Springboks will be looking to secure top spot in Pool B and a place in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals when they face the USA in London on Wednesday.

With the Eagles fielding a below-strength side as they keep their powder dry for this weekend's clash with Japan – their most important game of the tournament – and South Africa naming their strongest available team, a big scoreline is expected at the Olympic Stadium.

It was clear at Monday's Springbok team announcement that the damage done by the shock defeat to Japan is still very fresh in South African minds, so there will be no risks taken against the USA.

Nevertheless, with one foot in the quarter-finals, Heyneke Meyer's selections were met with general surprise, especially since this game comes just four days after a bruising battle with Scotland.

To be fair on Meyer, his squad will have 10 days to recover for their expected quarter-final (against Australia or Wales) and the Bok mentor was at pains to point out the number of times his squad has been forced into leadership changes this year, saying he didn't want any further disruptions.

"There are no easy games" Meyer repeated, stressing how much "respect" he had for the USA.

Those are valid points, but surely the depth of South Africa's squad means the Boks have more than enough firepower to get past the country ranked 16th in the world? Surely the naive arrogance of the Japanese disaster will not be repeated?

By making so few changes, Meyer is actually taking another kind of risk as he heads into the quarter-finals with a lot of players in his squad that have seen very little action in the past two months. Scrum-half Rudy Paige, who will make his RWC debut off the bench, hasn't played since June 13.

Loose forward Willem Alberts needs more game-time than a handful of minutes off the bench. Tendai Mtawarira has started almost every game this year, isn't it time Trevor Nyakane was given a longer run?

Meyer said he wanted to play Fourie du Preez and Handre Pollard together again because they've only had three matches games as a combination. Is it worth risking the injury-prone scrum-half, who is so vital to this Boks side's hopes? Both arguments have merit because Du Preez has hardly played this year but one would have expected the "balanced" approach that Meyer had suggested he would take after the Scotland game.

From an American perspective, this game will be about damage control and gaining experience.

"We're disappointed we didn't get wins (against Samoa and Scotland). We knew each World Cup game is a challenge but we also felt that we could win," said USA coach Mike Tolkin, who added his players lacked the experience needed to achieve more success at World Cup.

"For a lot of players who haven't played full-time it’s difficult to come in after three months and have a high-pressure game after high-pressure game. They've shown what they're capable of during a lot of games.

"When we've shown sound decision-making and we've gone after it. we've shown good athleticism, good electricity, we've shown really good energy at times."

If the Eagles are to avoid getting blown away, they will need to front up like never before against a Bok side that is now focussing their game plan around pure grunt.

It'll be entertaining, but if the Boks get on top early, it could get ugly.

Players to watch:

For South Africa: Sitting on the bench, Morné Steyn is in the matchday 23 for the first time at RWC 2015. Four years ago, he was the tournament's top scorer with 62 points having featured in all of the Boks' five matches. He is likely to get on early as it's vital that he is match ready for the play-off stages, where his accurate kicking could be a valuable asset. Rudy Paige will make both his Test and RWC debut when comes on. Paige will become the first player to make his Springbok Test debut in a World Cup match since Schalk Burger in 2003. He is one of only four uncapped players in the 20 squads on the opening day of Rugby World Cup 2015.

For USA: Toulon-bound number eight Samu Manoa will skipper the Eagles for the first time. Arguably the USA's best player and one of only a handful of first-choice players in the side, expect him to see a lot of the ball. Manoa has the potential to become a Sergio Parisse-type figure for his country. He has a big day at the office ahead of him as he lines up against one of the best in the business, Duane Vermeulen.

Head-to-head: The Eagles have a solid scrum and will hope to compete at the set-piece  where Oli Kilifi faces off with Frans Malherbe, who is pushing for a place in the starting XV for the quarter-finals.

Teams news: The Springboks have made two changes to the starting line-up that defeated Scotland. Frans Malherbe will start at tighthead prop in place of Jannie Du Plessis and Lwazi Mvovo comes in at 11. Tolkin has made 12 changes to the starting line-up that lost to Scotland, an unusually high figure for the Eagles. Only twice have they made more changes between World Cup matches. Only Phil Thiel, Samu Manoa and Blaine Scully have retained their places in the starting line-up from the Scotland match.

Previous results:

2007: South Africa won 64-15 in Montpellier
2001: South Africa won 43-20 in Houston
1981: South Africa won 38-7 in Glenville

Prediction: No mystery here. South Africa by 30 points!

The teams:

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Fourie du Preez (c), 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Morne Steyn, 23 Jan Serfontein.

USA: 15 Blaine Scully, 14 Brett Thompson, 13 Folau Niua, 12 Andrew Suniula, 11 Zach Test, 10 Shalom Suniula, 9 Niku Kruger, 8 Samu Manoa (c), 7 John Quill, 6 Danny Barrett, 5 Matthew Trouville, 4 Louis Stanfill, 3 Chris Baumann, 2 Phil Thiel, 1 Oli Kilifi.
Replacements:  16 Joe Taufetee, 17 Zach Fenoglio, 18 Mate Moeakiola, 19 Titi Lamositele, 20 Cam Dolan, 21 Al McFarland, 22 Mike Petri, 23 Chris Wyles.

Date: Wednesday, October 7
Venue: Olympic Stadium, London
Kick-off: 16:45 local (15:45 GMT)
Weather: Cloudy, 15 deg C.
Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)

By Ross Hastie in London