The Springboks will field an unchanged 23 for the first time since the last Rugby World Cup for their opening match of the 2019 version in Yokohama on Saturday (kick-off at 11h45 SA time).
Rassie Erasmus, director of rugby, on Wednesday named the same starting XV and eight replacements that defeated Japan, 41-7, in Kumagaya two weeks ago for the eagerly awaited clash against New Zealand.
No 8 Duane Vermeulen will be appearing in his 50th Test as one of 22 players who will, in fact, be appearing in their fourth match together this season.
The combination also fought to a 16-16 draw with the same opposition in Wellington before beating Argentina, 46-13, in Salta on their way to the Castle Lager Rugby Championship. The one exception is fit-again captain Siya Kolisi, who replaced Kwagga Smith to lead the side out against Japan.
The last time South Africa named an unchanged 23 was 51 matches ago – against New Zealand in the 2015 Rugby World Cup semi-final. The combination had beaten Wales 23-19 in the quarter-final, only to lose at Twickenham by two points a week later.
“We’ve found some consistency and some momentum in a number of ways this season,” said Erasmus, “and one of them is in selection.
“We have 31 players in the squad, any of whom I would be happy to select – as well as standby players back home – but this is a line-up that has worked well as a starting combination and one with real momentum to come from the bench.
“They have emerged together over the past 18 months as our game has developed and matured.
“We’re continuing to develop and new players are always pushing a claim but we’ve prepared well and we’re looking forward to what will be another extremely close match.”
Vermeulen, who made his debut in 2012, will win his 50th cap in a starting XV with three other half-centurions (Willie le Roux, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Eben Etzebeth), while there are a further three on the bench (Tendai Mtawarira, Francois Louw and Frans Steyn).
Only three of the starting XV have played fewer than 25 tests (Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am and Makazole Mapimpi) while only replacement scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies was not capped before this season.
“We have got good experience and leaders through the team – including four players who have captained the team at one time or another and three others who have captained their franchises – as well as some talented, relative newcomers for a good balance I believe,” said Erasmus.
This is the fifth meeting between the teams at the Rugby World Cup. The Springboks won the 1995 final and 1999 bronze medal match while New Zealand took the 2003 quarter-final and 2015 semi-final.
Apart from New Zealand’s comfortable 29-9 win in Melbourne in 2003, the margin of victory in the other three matches was by four points or fewer. Similarly, the last four matches in the Castle Lager Rugby Championship between these teams has been decided by two points or fewer.
“Our last three matches have ended in stalemate, one win each and a draw, for an aggregate score of 82-82,” said Erasmus.
“You couldn’t say there is a favourite. I think we have a healthy respect for each other’s capabilities but it will come down to a small moment to decide a big game in the end, I suppose.
“Our job is to focus on executing our plan and our skills to the best of our ability and hope that that is enough to overcome a New Zealand team that will be doing exactly the same.”
The Springbok team to play New Zealand in Yokohama on Saturday:
15. Willie le Roux (Wasps, England), 56 caps – 60 points (12 tries)
14. Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse, France), 10 – 25 (5t)
13. Lukhanyo Am (Cell C Sharks), 9 – 5 (1t)
12. Damian de Allende (DHL Stormers), 40 – 20 (4t)
11. Makazole Mapimpi (Cell C Sharks), 8 – 40 (8t)
10. Handré Pollard (Vodacom Bulls), 42 – 388 (6t, 65c, 73p, 3d)
9. Faf de Klerk (Sale Sharks, England), 25 – 15 (3t)
8. Duane Vermeulen (Vodacom Bulls), 49 – 15 (3t)
7. Pieter-Steph du Toit (DHL Stormers), 50 – 20 (4t)
6. Siya Kolisi (captain, DHL Stormers), 43 – 25 (5t)
5. Franco Mostert (Gloucester, England), 32 – 5 (1t)
4. Eben Etzebeth (DHL Stormers), 79 – 15 (3t)
3. Frans Malherbe (DHL Stormers), 32 – 0
2. Malcolm Marx (Emirates Lions), 27 – 20 (4t)
1. Steven Kitshoff (DHL Stormers), 40 – 5 (1t)
16. Bongi Mbonambi (DHL Stormers), 30 – 20 (4t)
17. Tendai Mtawarira (Cell C Sharks), 111 – 10 (2t)
18. Trevor Nyakane (Vodacom Bulls), 41 – 5 (1t)
19. RG Snyman (Vodacom Bulls), 16 – 0
20. Francois Louw (Bath, England), 69 – 45 (9t)
21. Herschel Jantjies (DHL Stormers), 4 – 20 (4t)
22. Frans Steyn (Montpellier, France), 61 – 136 (10t, 7c, 21p, 3d)
23. Jesse Kriel (Vodacom Bulls), 45 – 60 (12t)
Facts and Stats
Rugby World Cup history:
· New Zealand have won 45 out of 51 matches in Rugby World Cup tournaments for a win percentage of 88% – the best at Rugby World Cups.
· South Africa have won 30 out of 36 Test matches in Rugby World Cup tournaments since their first admission in 1995 – a winning percentage of 83% and the second best at Rugby World Cups.
Head-to-head (at RWC):
Played: 4; Won 2; Lost: 2; Points for: 64; Points against: 79; Tries for: 1; Tries against: 5; Win%: 50%
· Tendai Mtawarira and Frans Steyn are the most experienced players in the 23 with 11 RWC caps each.
· The total test caps for the Springbok starting line-up is 542.
· There are 190 caps in the backline with 352 caps among the forwards. There are a further 377 caps on the bench.
· The average caps per player in the backline is 27, the forwards 44 while the players on the bench average 47.
· The average age of the starting fifteen is 27.
· Duane Vermeulen will play in his 50thTest match while Eben Etzebeth will play in his 80th.
· Handré Pollard needs seven points to reach 100 points in RWC tournaments and 12 points in this Test match to reach 100 points against New Zealand.
· Pollard could surpass Percy Montgomery’s career record of 16 conversions against New Zealand. Currently he is on 15.
· The referee is Jérôme Garcès of France. This will be his 53rd Test match as a referee. South Africa was involved in thirteen of those Test matches, nine times on the losing side of which five were in matches against New Zealand.
· The assistant referees are Romain Poite of France and Karl Dickson of England, while Graham Hughes, also from England, will be the TMO.