Paris: South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber has named an unchanged match-day 23, the most experienced in Springbok history, from the one that edged France to play England in the World Cup semi-final in Paris on Saturday.
The selection boasts a combined total of 895 caps, with 15 of the 23 having played the 2019 World Cup final against England which the Boks won 32-12.
It is also only the second time that Nienaber and director of rugby Rassie Erasmus have named an identical line-up in 64 Tests since they took charge of the team in 2018.
The only other occasion was in the opening match of the 2019 tournament, which they lost 23-13 to New Zealand.
Manie Libbok and Cobus Reinach are again named at half-back, with World Cup winners Handre Pollard and Faf de Klerk on the bench, as they were for the Boks’ thrilling 29-28 victory over hosts France in the quarter-final.
Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel start in midfield, with a back three of Cheslin Kolbe, Kurt-Lee Arendse and Damian Willemse.
Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe and Bongi Mbonambi will pack down in the front row, with locks Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert behind them, and the loose trio of Bok skipper Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen completing the forward pack.
The replacements’ bench features forwards Deon Fourie (hooker/flanker), Ox Nche and Vincent Koch (props), RG Snyman (lock), Kwagga Smith (loose forward), and three backs in De Klerk (scrum-half), Pollard (fly-half), and Willie le Roux (fullback).
“We’ve been building a quality Rugby World Cup squad for the last few years so that we could be in this position going into the knockout matches,” said Nienaber.
“We have a squad of 33 players, all of whom are very closely matched in terms of their skill and quality of play which made it tempting to make changes this week and it was tough to select this group both last week and this week.
“But we feel it’s now time to go with the players in the squad who we believe are in their best form.”
Eight of the team started against England in the 2019 final while another seven other players from that match are also in the 23.
“This may not have much significance, but the fact remains that these players have been here before, and they know what it will take to defeat a top-quality team such as England,” said Nienaber.
“Competition for places in the team is very tight and the coaches had a few in depth discussions before finalising the team.”
Nienaber added that he expected a real challenge from England.
“They come off five victories in a row and they are high on confidence. They have a quality pack and world-class backs who can create magic on the field, and those who are writing them off are making a major mistake,” he said.
“Like us, they are one game away from a World Cup final and we’ve seen through the history of the tournament that England raise their game for these matches. If we lose, we have to play the third-place play-off - which no team wants to do.
“We are closely matched in terms of average player age and caps, both teams are used to playing on the biggest stage. This is do-or-die if either of us wants to the lift the trophy next week, so neither side will give an inch.”
South Africa (15-1): Damian Willemse; Kurt-Lee Arendse, Jesse Kriel, Damian De Allende, Cheslin Kolbe; Manie Libbok, Cobus Reinach; Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (capt); Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth; Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: Deon Fourie, Ox Nche, Vincent Koch, RG Snyman, Kwagga Smith, Faf de Klerk, Handre Pollard, Willie le Roux
Coach: Jacques Nienaber (RSA)