Cobus Reinach has been playing exceptional rugby - Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber

South Africa's scrumhalf Cobus Reinach runs to score the team's third try during the France 2023 Rugby World Cup Pool B match between South Africa and Romania at Stade de Bordeaux in Bordeaux, south-western France

Springbok flyhalf Manie Libbok and scrumhalf Cobus Reinach (pictured) have been preferred to 2019 World Cup winning duo Handre Pollard and Faf de Klerk respectively. Picture: Christophe Archambault/AFP

Published Oct 13, 2023


South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber said he believed his surprise starting halfbacks of Manie Libbok and Cobus Reinach are the best men for orchestrating the defeat of hosts France in Sunday's Rugby World Cup quarter-final.

Flyhalf Libbok and scrumhalf Reinach have been preferred to 2019 World Cup winning duo Handre Pollard and Faf de Klerk respectively.

Pollard, who scored 22 points in the 32-12 victory over England in 2019, and De Klerk are both on the bench.

Reinach, 33, will make just his 14th Test start on Sunday in the pressure cooker atmosphere of the Stade de France.

‘Exceptional rugby’

"If you look at a guy like Cobus he's been playing exceptional rugby and Faf for that matter," Nienaber told reporters on Friday after unveiling his matchday squad.

"If we selected Faf or selected Cobus I don't think it would have raised a lot of eyebrows.

"The French have got a very interesting kicking game that they use and we feel using those two guys will give us the best opportunity on Sunday," he added.

The creative Libbok is picked over the conservative Pollard, who was called up to the squad during the tournament after recovering from injury.

"If you look at cumulative numbers that Handre has been playing, it's probably one game for us this year," Nienaber said.

"We're slowly building him up over injury.

"Manie is our in-form fly-half.

"I think we've lost one game with Manie starting at 10, the team performs when he's the starting fly-half," he added.

'Mitigate risk’

A weakness of Libbok's game is his goal-kicking having wasted crucial chances in September's pool stage 13-8 defeat to Ireland.

"Any kicker on a day, like a hooker on any day, can have an off day," Nienaber said.

"When you play in a knockout you're not going to get a lot of opportunities and you have to take those opportunities.

"It might be try-scoring opportunities, five metres from the tryline, it might be points off the tee," he added.

Elsewhere Nienaber has opted for 2019 World Cup final man of the match Duane Vermeulen at No. 8 in preference to Jasper Wiese.

"For this specific game we feel Duane is the guy that we will need but that doesn't mean Jasper won't play in the semi-final," Nienaber said.

"The team selection is based on the team we feel we need to get a victory on Sunday," he added.

Nienaber has named five forwards and three backs on his bench, a more balanced selection than the 7-1 he deployed for the Irish match.

More traditional bench

"I know people look at the bench because we sometimes play around," Nienaber said.

"When we went seven-one people said it was a risk.

"I think five-three is probably the more standard one, that people perceive is less risk.

"But you do mitigate that risk with multiple players being able to cover multiple positions," he added.

France, who last lost at home in February 2021, won all their pool matches including an opening victory over three-time champions New Zealand.

"There's not a lot of weaknesses in the French side," Nienaber said.

"In one of their press conferences they made no bones about it that they prefer not to play with the ball.

"They pressure you, give you the ball and try to suffocate you with their defence," he added.

Springbok team: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Cobus Reinach, 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 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Handre Pollard, 23 Willie le Roux.

Coach: Jacques Nienaber (RSA)