Rassie banks on experience for titanic battle

Rassie Erasmus named a powerful matchday 23 to face Ireland in the first Test this weekend. | BackpagePix

Rassie Erasmus named a powerful matchday 23 to face Ireland in the first Test this weekend. | BackpagePix

Published Jul 3, 2024


Leighton Koopman

The Springboks do not harbour any thoughts of revenge or feel they have a score to settle against Ireland on Saturday in Pretoria.

Yes, they haven’t beaten the Irish since 2016, but since then the Boks won back-to-back World Cups and that, at the end of the day, is what currently distinguishes the world champions from the second-ranked rugby nation.

The enormity of the occasion on Saturday was emphasised by head coach Rassie Erasmus selecting his strongest available team for the first of two Tests at Loftus Versfeld (kick-off 5.05 pm), with 20 of the matchday squad being 2023 World Cup winners, including the entire starting 15.

They boast a collective 966 caps between them – the second most experienced Bok 23-man squad named after the one that did duty in the 2023 World Cup final.

It’s a massive privilege to be able do that, according to Erasmus, considering Steven Kitshoff, Jean Kleyn, Canan Moodie and Damian Willemse are some of the players still out with injuries. There was also no place for flyhalf Manie Libbok and influential midfielder Lukhanyo Am.

“They are number two in the world, they have beaten us last time, but we don’t see ourselves as the underdogs,” Erasmus said yesterday.

“I don’t think they see themselves as the underdogs and you will see two teams on Saturday really desperate to perform for their countries. From their side, they probably have unfinished business to try and get to number one (in the world).

“We don’t talk like that (about getting revenge). We try to stay in our reality and that is that we are playing a side that has beaten us. All the games were close and they deserved it.

“But I would rather win two World Cups and a British & Irish Lions series, and take three losses (against Ireland) with it. We didn’t pick this team to try and lose.”

With the experience, Erasmus also opted for his standard 6-2 split between forwards and backs on the bench, with utility backs Grant Williams and rookie Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu covering the backs. Kwagga Smith, normally one of the top Bomb Squad members, is promoted to the starting No 8 jersey.

The Bok guru said that it could still become a 7-1 split should some niggles not clear up by tomorrow.

“There is a possibility for a 7-1 split, but I don’t want to elaborate on that at this point. Sacha brings something to the part because there won’t be a lot of changes to the side when we go 6-2, and that is actually where Manie missed out.

“If a 12 goes down, Sacha can go straight in there because he has played there for the Stormers. The same with the flyhalf and fullback positions. With Manie, he’s not that comfortable at 12, and then Handre would have to play 12 and everybody from 10 would have to move one position out if Cheslin (Kolbe) goes to 15. Sacha makes more sense.”

Erasmus joked that former Bok coach Jacques Nienaber phones him every night with some inside info on Ireland, but on a more serious note, the Springbok coach said he is not worried about any of those things.

He said it will be a battle for the entire 80 minutes, but they know what to expect.

“Twenty of our guys played last time against the Irish when we lost, so I don’t have to remind them of anything.”

Springboks starting XV: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Kwagga Smith, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (capt), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche; Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Gerhard Steenekamp, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 RG Snyman, 21 Marco van Staden, 22 Grant Williams, 23 Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu.