VIDEO: The numbers that count against Pollard and for Libbok
The decision to bench two members of the 2019 World Cup-winning squad was for ‘obvious’ reasons.
That is the view of South African coach Jacques Nienaber, after he named his team to face hosts France in the World Cup quarterfinal in Paris on Sunday.
Nienaber sprang a couple of surprises on Friday – selecting Cobus Reinach and Manie Libbok at scrumhalf and flyhalf respectively.
The 2019 World Cup-winning duo of Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard will play off the bench at a sold-out Stade de France.
Pollard had been brought into the squad, after hooker Malcolm Marx suffered a tournament-ending injury, with many pundits feeling his superior goalkicking will earn his the nod ahead of Libbok.
Pollard, who scored 22 points in the 32-12 win over England in the 2019 Final, was recovering from a calf injury when the squad was initially picked.
However, he produced an assured performance on his return to the team in the 49-18 victory over Tonga a fortnight ago.
However, Nienaber said the team named – including the halfbacks – is the combination he feels has the best chance to secure a win in the cauldron of the famous Paris venue.
He also played down the decision to move away from a forward-head bench – often six forwards and just two backs, but more recently loaded with seven forwards.
For Sunday there are only five forwards and three backs.
“If it’s 8-0, 7-1, 6-2 or 5-3, it falls under team selection,”Nienaber told a media briefing.
“We have selected a team, irrespective of the bench, that we think will give us the best opportunity of a victory on Sunday.
“If we select Cobus [Reinach] or Faf [de Klerk], I don’t think there would be a lot of raised eyebrows. ”
He said the French kicking game influenced his decision to start Reinach at scrumhalf.
“We feel using those two guys [Reinach and De Klerk] will give us the best opportunity.
“For this specific game, we feel Duane [Vermeulen at No.8 ahead of Jasper Wiese] is the guy we will need, but that doesn’t mean Jasper [Wiese] won’t play in the semifinal.
“It is based on what we feel we need to get a victory on Sunday.”
The big debate centred on the No.10 jersey.
(WATCH as Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber explains the eye-opening selection changes for the World Cup quarterfinal face-off against hosts France in Paris on Sunday…)
“If you look at a guy like Cobus, he is playing exceptional rugby, and Faf for that matter.
“Manie [Libbok] and Handre [Pollard] is a little bit different, when you look at the cumulative number of minutes Handre has played for us this year,”Nienaber told @rugby365com.
“It [his game time] is probably one game [when added] altogether, so he is slowly building up his minutes.
“Manie is our in-form flyhalf.
“I think we have lost one game this year when he has started at No.10,” he said of the 8-13 reversal against Ireland in Paris last month.
The other Bok loss – the deflating 20-35 scoreline ion Auckland – Libbok played off the replacement bench.
“He is in form and the team performs when he starts at No.10, it is as simple as that.”
Nienaber admitted it was “quite a tough” selection process.
“If you look at the squad and the way we have managed the load over the last few games and the 10 tests we have played this season, the majority of our group has had between four and six games of exposure.
“The World Cup is spread over two months so we need to manage the squad so they go into knockout stages as fresh as possible.
“The beauty of our squad is we had the ability to rotate and rest and manage their load.
“Hopefully that will carry us through.”
He also addressed the absence of another World Cup winner, Lukhanyo Am – who also only recently returned from injury.
“Lukhanyo [Am] has not had much exposure because of his injury, but he looks good in training.
“It’s the same with Jasper [Wiese], there is no reason why they might not get selected in a semifinal.
“We believe we have a team to match the strengths and expose the weaknesses of France, although there are not a lot of weaknesses there.
“I know Handre came back and kicked 100 percent in the last game, but I think Manie did too.
“Any kicker can have an off day, but when you play knockout games, you are not going to get many opportunities.
“So when we get them, we must use them.”