Here’s where the Springboks need fresh blood for their Rugby World Cup semi-final against England

Springboks foward Kwagga Smith made a huge impact off the bench against France. Photo: BackpagepPix

Springboks foward Kwagga Smith made a huge impact off the bench against France. Photo: BackpagepPix

Published Oct 18, 2023


‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ might be an expected refrain when your team have just won a World Cup quarter-final against the host nation.

But while the Springboks produced a heroic effort in their 29-28 triumph over France at the weekend, it doesn’t mean that SA director of rugby Rassie Erasmus and coach Jacques Nienaber won’t be considering any changes to the starting XV and bench for Saturday’s semi-final against England.

One immediate reason is the fact that there is a six-day turnaround between games. At least the South Africans won’t have to travel somewhere else as they are again playing at the Stade de France, but it took a monumental effort from the team to get across the line against Antoine Dupont’s side.

It will be about a one-and-ahalf-hour flight for England from Marseille to Paris, which may not be too long, but does take unnecessary time out of your preparation – especially with one day less between their Sunday quarter-final against Fiji and facing the Boks.

But just in terms of the physical toll that the French game would have taken on Siya Kolisi’s team – and the expected abrasive approach expected from the English – the Boks could do with some “fresh blood” this weekend.

Centres Jesse Kriel and Damian de Allende both produced arguably their finest performances in their Test careers last Sunday.

Kriel put his body on the line in defence, carried the ball fearlessly on attack and came up with perhaps his best ever touch for the Boks with THAT grubber that bounced up perfectly for Cheslin Kolbe to round off.

De Allende added some lovely finesse to his usual power game, showing good pace in the build-up to his own try, and also keeping the French defence busy in different channels.

But will they be able to come up with that same intensity just six days later?

And with the incredible depth that the Boks have built over the last few years, there are a number of excellent alternatives that could serve the defending champions well this weekend.

Andre Esterhuizen and Canan Moodie have been outstanding whenever they’ve featured in 2023, and would have been one of the tough calls Nienaber & Co had to make last week.

The duo complement each other well, with Esterhuizen’s physicality, tackle-breaking runs and clever offloads alongside Moodie’s pace, anticipation and skill.

Lukhanyo Am is another possibility, but he hasn’t played for a few months due to injury and would be a risk in a semi-final – at least as a starter. He might just be worth a spot on the bench, though.

You would be right to feel that on the basis of their quarter-final displays, De Allende and Kriel should hold onto their starting positions. But I just feel that Esterhuizen and Moodie can bring that same energy – and even more – against England that the former pair provided against France.

It’s a similar situation for Duane Vermeulen at No 8. I was delighted when he was included for the French quarter-final, and it all worked out as he brought his experience to bear in the red-hot Stade de France cauldron.

Vermeulen makes those crucial interventions at times, whether it’s at the breakdown, maul, line-out or general play.

But we saw the huge difference Kwagga Smith made when he came on at No 8 with his high work-rate across the pitch. They are very different players, Vermeulen a more physical presence and Smith’s pace making him a nuisance for the opposition.

Of course, Jasper Wiese is perhaps a mix of the two, although he lacks the skills of both players with ball-in-hand. The Leicester Tigers star can perhaps play a “soften-up” role in the first half to douse the fire of the English pack before unleashing Smith’s energy in the last 35 minutes.

Vermeulen could be a second loose-forward option on the bench, which may then have to revert to a six-two split in favour of the forwards.

Lastly, Frans Malherbe played 62 minutes against France and Steven Kitshoff 50 before they were replaced.

Again, Vincent Koch and Ox Nche added real punch upfront in the scrums and tight exchanges, so perhaps the props should be swapped around as well.

Kitshoff can certainly play that “Bomb Squad” role, although Malherbe is a better starter – so may just hold onto the No 3 jersey.

All of this is not about questioning the ability of last Sunday’s starters, but rather selecting the best possible team to win Saturday’s semi-final.

The fact that most of the 33-player squad have had regular game time this year makes it less of a “gamble” to start with some of those who didn’t feature against France.

Now we wait with bated breath for tomorrow, when the Bok team will be announced ...There is no way that the Springboks will be thinking about the World Cup final this week already ahead of Saturday’s semi-final against England at the Stade de France (9pm kickoff).