South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber has discussed why they have gone for a 7-1 split against the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup final.
It is just the third time they have done it, having also lined up that way against New Zealand in a warm-up match and Ireland earlier on in this tournament.
Although they claimed a dominant 35-7 victory over Ian Foster’s men in August, the tactic failed to have the necessary impact against the Irish as they went down 13-8 in the Pool B encounter.
Plenty of debate
“The team is not 15, it is 23. We always say that. When you do squad selection there are a lot of things that influence that, from medical to past performances and a lot of analysis into New Zealand and where we think we can get the edge on them,” Nienaber said.
“Then the discussions start between the coaches and it goes from a 5-3 to a 6-2 to a 7-1, then it goes back again. It is not a 10-minute discussion, it is hours and hours.”
South Africa often tailor their teams to the opponents they are facing and they have a specific plan to combat the All Blacks this weekend.
“I’m not going to say what the strengths and weaknesses of the All Blacks are, that would be stupid. But a lot of analysis went into it and at the end we went with a squad of 23,” Nienaber said.
“It could have been 6-2, 5-3, it doesn’t matter. You select a team that you think can get a result. The 23 we selected for a reason, and the reason is we think they can deliver and win us a back-to-back World Cup.
“How did the other guys take it? We explain to the whole squad why we are going a certain route. It is not about individual selection. It is for South Africa.
“As selectors we know there will be pressure on us if we don’t deliver a result but at the back of our minds we know this selection is for South Africa.
“The players take it like that. It is not about person or ego, not that they have egos, but you can’t think of that. You have to think about South Africa and the Springboks.”
Change at fly-half
The big call came in the number 10 jersey with Handre Pollard being selected to start, replacing previous incumbent Manie Libbok.
With the Boks going with a 7-1 split on the bench, that means Libbok misses out on the 23 altogether.
Willie le Roux is the only backline replacement and, as a result, there is no out-and-out back-up scrum-half.
Nienaber revealed who would be taking on that role should Faf de Klerk pick up an injury during the contest.
“In our case it will be Cheslin (Kolbe),” he said. “He played sweeper in sevens which is the equivalent to scrum-half. He has always been a guy who, if we got a yellow card, would be the stand-in half-back, not just this week but for a couple of weeks.”
Captain Siya Kolisi discussed what the quirky approach to selection was like as a player, and whether it was easy to buy into.
“Those decisions get made and you find, am I going to sulk for me or am I going to think of the bigger project?” Kolisi said.
“When we win, South Africa wins. It doesn’t say this guy started or this guy kicked the winning penalty. When they write the name on the trophy they say South Africa.
“Handre (Pollard) covers 12. He can play 12. Something happens to Doogz (Damian de Allende), Handre can shift in.
“Those decisions get made because Damian Willemse can cover 10, 12 and 15. And Cheslin (Kolbe) can play scrum-half, full-back and wing.
“When they pick the team they don’t just announce it, they explain to us all the situation. We make peace with it.
“For a guy like Manie (Libbok), he really wants to play. He was disappointed but he became Richie Mo’unga (All Blacks fly-half) for the team and gave us the best pictures we could get because he knows that’s the role he is asked to play for this specific game, as Handre (Pollard) had to do, as Marvin Orie (did), who has been amazing us. Everybody has a role to play.
“That’s just how we see it as a team, it’s far bigger than us.”
Injury forces reshuffle in the front-row
South Africa’s strength comes up front and particularly in the front-row. Although the starters were nullified by England during the semi-final clash, the bench came on to great effect.
Loosehead Ox Nche starred but he was ably supported by Vincent Koch, who misses out on the final due to a minor injury.
Koch might have been fit to play in the contest but he was absent for their first training session of the week, which ruled him out.
The versatile Trevor Nyakane, a prop that can play on both sides of the scrum, therefore comes into the 23-man squad.
“Vincent Koch couldn’t train on Monday and we have a policy that if you can’t train on a Monday you are not up for selection,” Nienaber added.
“From a performance point of view, there is not a big gap. As coaches you always mitigate risk by prepping other people.”