History looms for the Springboks as they aim to clinch back-to-back Rugby World Cup wins

South Africa's captain, Siya Kolisi, in action against England at Ellis Park Stadium. Picture by REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO.

South Africa's captain, Siya Kolisi, in action against England at Ellis Park Stadium. Picture by REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO.

Published Oct 28, 2023


Johannesburg - It may have taken blood, sweat and tears, and some nail-biting moments for the Springboks to reach the Rugby World Cup Final, but former lock Kobus Wiese was always confident that his team would make it to the final.

“I predicted from the start it will be a Springboks vs All Blacks final,” Wiese told the Saturday Star.

Tonight (Saturday), all eyes will be on the Stade de France as the Springboks aim to create history by winning back-to-back World Cups.

However, standing in their way is their arch nemesis, the All Blacks, who will be just as motivated to add to their already glittering trophy cabinet.

The scene has been set for a colossal battle between two of rugby’s greatest rivals and the two best teams in the world, according to the current world rankings (the Springboks are in first place and New Zealand second), in what will mark their third match-up this year.

The All Blacks won the first outing between the sides 35-20 in Auckland in the Castle Lager Rugby Championship, with the Boks winning the second match 35-7 in their final Rugby World Cup warm-up game at Twickenham in August, which is expected to spice up this match even more.

Just like millions of other South Africans, Wiese has waited in anticipation for kick-off tonight.

“It is great to be in another final and that against the old rivals, the All Blacks,” says Wiese. “Winning will make us the leading team in World Cups and of course, success will inspire more young rugby players, so it’s a huge moment for the team and for the country as a whole.”

The Springboks have had to fight for their spot in the final, with two close encounters between France and England.

The team struggled in both matches, narrowly winning each game by one point. But that hasn’t bothered Wiese.

Former Springbok lock Kobus Wiese predicted an All Blacks vs Springbok final. File image.

“Sometimes you need luck at this level and we had lots of that in the last two games. We should not have won against the French; they lost it. The English were better on the day than us, but we showed massive character and guts to escape from jail.”

Wiese says the quicker we forget about the hiding the Boks gave the All Blacks in a friendly at Twickenham, the better. “This will be a totally different game.”

He believes that coach Jacques Nienaber will stick to his guns and keep things the way they have been throughout the tournament.

“The Boks won’t deviate from what we have seen thus far. The pack of forwards and 9/10 will be very important, as they need to control the game.”

Wiese has also singled out a few players who will have a massive impact tonight.

“Eben Etzabeth, Kwagga, all the props, Reinach, Arendse, Moodie, Esterhuizen, just to name a few who have been spectacular.”

He also made special mention of captain Siya Kolisi, with whom he has been impressed throughout the tournament.

“He has the respect of his players and showed guts and determination to fight back from injury; what more can you ask from your captain.”

Asked how the current squad compares to previous Bok squads, Wiese says: “ It is a great squad. But it’s unfair to compare teams with each other, as individuals differ, and every tournament is different.”

Bok lock Eben Etzebeth addressing the media. Picture: PHANDO JIKELO/ANA.

Meanwhile, Springbok locks Marvin Orie and Jean Kleyn said they were well aware of the challenge ahead and said they were ready to front up.

“I think everyone in the world knows New Zealand are famous for their courageous and skilful play,” says Orie.

“In Auckland, they started that match with intensity, and we took the learnings from that match going into the game in London, and fortunately it went in our favour.

“We are hoping for the same this weekend, but this is a Rugby World Cup final, and we know it will be a tight game.”

With the haka being a vital element on matchday between the arch-rivals, Kleyn says it was nothing new to the team, and that they were ready to face it as they usually do.

“It’s a fantastic tradition, and for us it’s part of playing a match against the All Blacks,” says Kleyn.

“The match we played against them at Twickenham was the first time I faced the haka. It was a great experience and we honoured it as a team. Today we’ll line up against it as we always do and focus on the game.”

When quizzed about the importance of a strong start to the match given New Zealand’s emphasis on starting their matches with a bang, Orie said the Boks knew what they had to do tonight as they attempt to register back-to-back Rugby World Cup victories and become the first team to win four titles.

“As the coaches always say, it’s hard to ensure a fast start because the ball can bounce funny at times, but what we can control is to start with good intensity and to prepare well in the week,” says Orie.

“We’ve been doing a lot of analysis on New Zealand, and that included our Rugby Championship match and the game at Twickenham, so hopefully that will assist us in ensuring that we can start with intensity this weekend.”

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber announced his matchday squad yesterday (Thursday) and has opted for a 7-1 split on the bench.

In the starting line-up, 2019 World Cup-winning half-backs Handre Pollard and Faf de Klerk return to earn their 25th start as a pair, making their partnership the most experienced in Springbok history, surpassing Joost van der Westhuizen and Henry Honiball.

Cheslin Kolbe of South Africa during the 2018 Rugby Championship match between South Africa and New Zealand at Loftus Stadium, Pretoria, on October 6, 2018. I ©MUZI NTONBELA/BACKPAGEPIX.

Outside of Pollard, the battle-hardened midfield pairing of Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel continue their work in the centres, while the back-three is unchanged, with Damian Willemse named alongside the lethal wing duo of Cheslin Kolbe and Kurt-Lee Arendse.

Skipper Siya Kolisi makes history by becoming the most capped Springbok captain at World Cups, with 12 moving ahead of John Smit. He is joined by veterans Duane Vermeulen and Pieter-Steph du Toit in the back-row.

In the tight five, 2023 World Rugby Player of the Year Nominee, Eben Etzebeth continues at lock alongside his tireless partner Franco Mostert, while the front-row is unchanged with Frans Malherbe, Steven Kitshoff and Bongi Mbonambi at the coalface.

Orie says the Springbok team’s mindset that every player had a vital role to play in steering the team to success, made this group particularly special.

“Rugby, at its core, is a team sport,” says Orie.

“There are 33 players in the World Cup squad and for us it’s important that everyone contributes – not only in case there are injuries, but also to prepare an entire team as well as possible for every match.

“So much analysis goes into the opposition these days and over and above that, we try to prepare one another for exactly what the opposition will bring on the field. I feel it’s incredibly important for a team to operate like that, and hopefully the franchises will use the same model in future.”

On a personal note, Kleyn, who was a member of Ireland’s Rugby World Cup squad in 2019, said being with the Springboks was truly special, and he relished every minute of the experience and opportunity to be in the group.

“If you had asked me six months ago if there was any chance that I could play for the Springboks in the World Cup final, I would have thought you were insane,” says Kleyn.

“It was outside my realm of thinking. It’s brilliant being part of this squad. It’s one of the best groups I’ve ever been involved in, and they are passionate about the game and South Africa.”

The Rugby World Cup final kicks off at 9pm tonight and will be broadcast live on SuperSport.

The Saturday Star