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South Africa v Scotland - teams and prediction

PREVIEW – ROUND ONE: The pool of death. That is the fashionable euphemism to use.

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The reality – despite the denials from both camps – is that this match is vital for both teams’ cause.

One of the defending champions South Africa, world No.1 Ireland and the fifth-ranked Scotland will not make it out of Pool B and get into the play-offs.

The best way to articulate Sunday’s opening round encounter between the Springboks and the Scots is to tag it as a ‘must-win’ game.

South Africa captain Siya Kolisi insists the Boks are not under pressure as they start the defence of their World Cup title in Marseille.

The timing of the draw for the tournament, in December 2020, has been criticised because of how much the global landscape has shifted since then.

All three teams – SA, Ireland and Scotland – are in good form, not least the Boks, who posted a record 35-7 victory over New Zealand in their final warm-up match.

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But Kolisi said the word pressure was off the table when it came to playing.

“It’s never pressure,” Kolisi told a media briefing this week.

“We speak about it bluntly and honestly.”

“[Director of Rugby] Rassie [Erasmus] and [coach] Jacques [Nienaber] spoke to us before the 2019 Final about what pressure is and how much an honour and a privilege we have because we’re doing what we love and we’re able to make people feel that way.

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“I will never forget when we won in Japan. It was special, it felt great.

“But when we landed in Johannesburg – I’m actually getting goosebumps – I’ve never seen anything like that.

“The airport was, I think, under emergency because everybody left their working stations, they just wanted to see us!

“That is the kind of energy that drives us, the kind of energy that reminds us who we’re doing it for and why we’re doing it.”

Nienaber, who made four run-on changes to the side that dismantled the All Blacks last month, was under no illusions about what lay ahead for his team: knock-out rugby from the off.

(Jacques Nienaber previews Sunday’s opening Pool B game …)

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“Scotland is a quality side,” the Bok coach told a media briefing.

“They deserve to be ranked fifth in the world.

“Their performances over the last year, year-and-a-half have been consistent against big teams.

“It will be a proper Test match.

“We are in knockout mode from day one.”

After pushing New Zealand close in last year’s November internationals, Scotland finished third in the Six Nations and went on to become one of the few teams to have beaten France in recent years, running out 25-21 victors in a warm-up game.

“All the teams have improved since 2019 but World Cups are a bit different,” maintained Nienaber.

“You must have the ability to score points, whereas in 2019 you could grind it out with a good defence, a good kicking game, a solid set-piece.”

Scotland, with the mercurial Finn Russell pulling the strings from flyhalf and former Wallaby Jack Dempsey preferred at No.8 to Matt Fagerson, need to deliver their “most complete game”, coach Gregor Townsend said.

But Townsend was unwilling to dwell too long on the Scots being dubbed the underdogs.

“It’s something we did mention when we played France away,” the Scottish coach said.

“We had nothing to lose in that game.

“For a lot of that game we did that and we almost came away with a win,” he said of a narrow 27-30 warm-up loss in Saint-Etienne.

“That mindset is a good one to have, but we also need the mindset that we can believe we can win, that if we’re ahead in the game, we’ve got to put the foot down and keep playing and keep doing the things that got us ahead.

“You’ve just got to balance that underdog spirit with that mindset that you’re here to win.”

Nienaber said the Boks’ approach to the game will remain the same.

“You have to get possession to score points,” he told @rugby365com.

“For that [possession] you need proper set pieces,” he said, when asked where the game would be won or lost.

“You must get momentum with your attack.

“And when they have the ball you must contain them.”

He said that if his team can’t get momentum, they will rely on their kicking game.

“You exchange it [possession] for territory and put pressure on the opposition,” he added.

“We have analysed them properly, but we need to focus on the normal stuff – ensure we get our set pieces right, get momentum with our attack, ensure we stop their momentum with our defence and apply pressure with our kicking game.”

The Springboks have only played Scotland twice since Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus, took over the coaching reins in 2018: a 26-20 victory in 2018 and a 30-15 win in 2021, both in Edinburgh.

Aside from Scotland, ranked fifth in the world, a tough Pool B will also see second-ranked South Africa in action against the world’s No.1 team Ireland, Tonga and Romania.

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Players to watch

For South Africa: Electric wing Cheslin Kolbe was one of four run-on changes for the Springboks. Of the four changes to the team that notched up a record 35-7 victory over New Zealand in the two teams’ final warm-up match, the sole alteration in the Springbok starting pack comes at No.8, where Jasper Wiese takes over from Duane Vermeulen, who moves to the bench. Changes in the backline see Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel unite in a midfield pairing, and Kolbe returning at left wing in place of Makazole Mapimpi. Two players, utility back Canan Moodie and lock Jean Kleyn, were not considered for selection due to hamstring and knee niggles respectively. Nienaber opted for a six-two split in favour of the forwards on the replacements’ bench. Against Scotland, Bongi Mbonambi (hooker), Ox Nche, Trevor Nyakane (both props), RG Snyman (lock), Marco van Staden (flank) and Vermeulen are named as the impact forwards, while Grant Williams and Willie le Roux provide backline cover. The match will mark scrumhalf Faf De Klerk’s half-century of internationals.

For Scotland: Mercurial flyhalf Finn Russell will pull the strings for Scotland. Townsend named Russell, in his third World Cup, alongside Ben White at halfback, with centres Sione Tuipulotu and Huw Jones continuing their partnership in midfield. Prolific wings Duhan van der Merwe and Darcy Graham are joined in the back three by fullback Blair Kinghorn. Jamie Ritchie captains the team from blindside flank and is joined in the back row by openside Rory Darge and former Wallaby Jack Dempsey at No.8. Richie Gray and Grant Gilchrist, both of whom will be appearing at a third World Cup, combine at lock forward, while George Turner gets the nod at hooker, packing down with Pierre Schoeman (loosehead) and Zander Fagerson (tighthead). Townsend plumped for a five-three split on the bench.

Head to head

SA-v-Scot-head-to-head

Prediction

@rugby365com: South Africa by nine points

Teams

South Africa: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Duane Vermeulen, 22 Grant Williams, 23 Willie le Roux.

Scotland: Blair Kinghorn, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ben White, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Rory Darge, 6 Jamie Ritchie (captain), 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Dave Cherry, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 WP Nel, 19 Scott Cummings, 20 Matt Fagerson, 21 Ali Price, 22 Cameron Redpath, 23 Ollie Smith.

Date: Sunday, September 10
Venue: Stade de Marseille, Marseille
Kick-off: 17.45 (15.45 GMT; 16.45 UK & Ireland time; 17.45 SA time)
Expected weather: Sunny and warm, with a gentle breeze. High of 30°C and a low of 18°C – 28°C at kick-off.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia) and Jordan Way (Australia)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

@king365ed
@rugby365com

* Additional reporting by AFP

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