Springbok team unchanged for All Black battle
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has named an unchanged starting 15 to face New Zealand in their Rugby World Cup semifinal clash at Twickenham in London on Saturday at 5pm, one the Met Office has predicted will be played in the rain.
The only change to the match-day squad is at replacement lock, where Victor Matfield has overcome his hamstring injury and takes over from Pieter-Steph du Toit, bringing even more experience to the bench.
It’s the first time since November that Meyer has been able to name an unchanged team for back-to-back Tests and only the sixth time since his appointment in 2012.
“It’s great to be able to give another run to the team that got us through to the semifinals in the biggest Test of the year,” said Meyer.
“Victor’s inclusion on the bench gives us even more experience there and, as we saw last weekend against Wales, when the replacements did very well towards the end of the match, this will be crucial. His influence will also be pivotal against a strong New Zealand lineout.”
Meyer said his team was braced for a massive onslaught on Saturday.
“We’re playing against the defending champions and the top-ranked side in the world, but the current New Zealand side can also be regarded as arguably one of the best Test teams ever,” said Meyer.
“We have the utmost respect for their players and coaching staff and although there is an intense rivalry, we actually get along very well away from the field.
“But we have to believe we can beat them otherwise we’ll be wasting our time on Saturday. We will have to be at our ultimate best and although we played some excellent rugby against Wales, there are always things to improve on.
“Tests against New Zealand are very intense and the margins over the last couple of years have been small.
We’re not expecting anything different this weekend and the self-belief is there.
“Everyone in our group is massively excited about Saturday’s challenge. For many players this will be a once-in-a-lifetime occasion and we want to go out there and make it count in front of what will be a magnificent crowd at a superb stadium.”
Lood de Jager will undergo a late fitness assessment on Friday, after which a call on his availability will be made. If he can’t play, Matfield will start with Pieter-Steph du Toit on the bench.
‘Servant of South Africa’
Matfield’s role at the 2015 Rugby World Cup has not been as prominent as many would have thought.
His hamstring injury ruled him out before the Scotland clash in Pool B and in that time Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth have forged a partnership in the second row that has commanded attention.
But Meyer was full of praise for the 38-year-old at Wednesday’s team announcement, complimenting the player’s attitude and professionalism.
“Victor is that type of character. When I spoke to him to come back [from retirement in 2014] he said wherever we need him ... he just wanted to be part of something special,” Meyer said. “It just shows the character of the team and the character of the man. He said from day one that he’s there to serve and that whatever the team needs ... if he’s there to groom the youngsters to help them, or if we need him as an impact ... he was happy with that.
“He’s an unbelievable servant of South African and Springbok rugby. I’m proud to have a guy like that.”
Meyer added that having a player of Matfield’s calibre and experience on the bench, especially against the All Blacks, would stand the Boks in good stead moving into the final stages of Saturday’s clash. “It makes a huge difference to us to have a leader and a guy like that at the end,” the coach said.
While acknowledging the tough challenge ahead, Meyer says there isn’t too much difference in playing style between his side and the All Blacks.
The Boks have long been associated with a forwards-dominated game that thrives on tight phases and accurate tactical kicking, but Meyer says they have moved away from that stereotype.
“In a sense, we play more or less the same,” he said.
“Their skill level and the way they play has been unbelievable and every time we’ve played them we’ve also scored a lot of tries. It’s never been a dull affair.
“They look to move the ball around and they want to score tries and if you look at our previous encounters it’s always either been four tries to five, or three to four.
“So we have also moved on from where we came from. We also want to move the ball around and create more tries. But I think knockout games are different. On the day there will always be more pressure.”
Meyer said that while the top teams all looked to play a similar brand of rugby, it was in execution where the differences lay.
“Where they are very good is with their tactical kicking and when they get the chance they finish it ... and that’s something that we need to improve on,” he said.
Opinions are divided over which team wet conditions would favour. The Met Office’s website shows a 70% probability of rain, throughout the morning and peaking at kick-off.
The Boks with their “keep it tight” approach may well enjoy the precipitation and the wet ball could hamper New Zealand’s “spread it wide” approach.
But a fit All Blacks side may encounter a flagging Springbok outfit in the final quarter of the game as the legs of the South Africans give way.
The temperature at kick-off is predicted to be 13°C.
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Fourie du Preez (captain), 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.
Substitutes: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Jannie du Plessis, 19 Victor Matfield, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein. – News24.com