Tokyo: South Africa have suffered a major setback ahead of Sunday’s World Cup semi-final against Wales with danger man Cheslin Kolbe ruled out through injury, forcing the Springboks to replace him on the wing with S’Bu Nkosi.
Kolbe hobbled off after twisting an ankle in the 49-3 pool win against Italy and was in discomfort again in the quarter-finals, when South Africa broke the hearts of host nation Japan.
“It’s a big blow because everybody knows his quality and the contribution he makes,” South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus said on Thursday.
“But if you look at the previous game, his ankle definitely had an influence on his performance. We don’t think a 70 per cent Cheslin is better than a 100 per cent S’Bu.”
While South Africa, whose only win over Wales in their last six meetings came in the 2015 World Cup quarter-finals, will miss Kolbe’s explosiveness, Erasmus was quick to point out that Nkosi was no slouch, with eight tries in 10 Tests to his name.
“Cheslin’s top-end speed and agility — he’s one of the best in the world,” he said.
“But we have full confidence in S’Bu and he certainly deserves his chance.”
Nkosi, set to make his third appearance of the World Cup, is South Africa’s only change and joins Makazole Mapimpi, the tournament’s joint top try-scorer with five tries, on the other wing.
“Having Makazole in the form he’s in is fantastic,” said Erasmus, who has made the Boks a force again since taking over in 2018.
“Obviously in the last four games Wales are 4-0 (on us). I don’t know who’s the favourites, but we fully believe we can beat them.”
Erasmus refused to be drawn into mind games, however, insisting both sides would feel the pressure.
“We’re under pressure in the last couple of years to redeem ourselves,” he said.
“We were No. 5, six, seven in the world since 2015 and had some proper hidings — some people lost faith in us and we’re trying to get that respect back,” added Erasmus, noting South Africa’s shock defeat by Japan at the last World Cup.
“That’s a different kind of pressure. People are starting to believe in us again as a team.”
Erasmus again went with six forwards on the bench, suggesting the hulking Boks will continue to try and drag opponents into an arm-wrestle up front.
“I’ve definitely taken a few sleeping tablets the last two nights thinking about it,” said the 47-year-old, whose forwards pulverised Japan in a 26-3 win last weekend.
The Springboks have never lost to Wales at a World Cup but their matches have always been cliffhangers.
They beat the Welsh 17-16 in a pool match in 2011 before squeezing through 23-19 in that quarter-final at Twickenham four years ago.
The winners this weekend face either defending champions New Zealand or England in the final, but Erasmus believes South Africa — champions in 1995 and 2007 — can upset the odds.
“They all rank higher than us and have great coaches and great players,” he said.
“But we feel we have as good a chance as the other three teams.”
As England and New Zealand squabble over accusations the All Blacks have been spying on England’s training, Erasmus paid tribute to Wales coach Warren Gatland.
“Absolute legend of the game, Warren,” he said of the New Zealander, who steps down after the World Cup.
“His results speak for themselves, not just for Wales but the Lions as well. He’s a gentleman on and off the field and he deserves all the credit that comes his way.”