Ross Roche

By Ross Roche

Senior sports writer

Boks v France: Nienaber explains all his big selections for RWC quarter-final

Besides a few interesting player picks, the Boks have opted for a 5-3 bench split for the match.

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber sprung a few surprises in his team announcement on Friday morning for their quarter-final clash against France in Saint-Denis on Sunday night, which may work in their favour.

The Boks are known for their forward driven style of play and usual reliance on goal kicking for them to build up early points at the start of games.

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However, over the past year the Boks have struggled on the goal kicking front, while also trying a lot of different things, including the infamous 7-1 bench split which they’ve rolled out twice over the past month and a half.

Bit of a surprise

So it was a bit of a surprise to see the Boks backing Manie Libbok and Cobus Reinach as the halfback combination over Handre Pollard and Faf de Klerk, while Duane Vermeulen also got the nod at eighthman over Jasper Wiese, who has been the preferred pick over the past few games.

“We have selected a team, irrespective of the bench, that we think will give us the best opportunity of a victory on Sunday,” explained Nienaber at the team announcement.

“If we select Cobus or Faf, I don’t think there would be a lot of raised eyebrows. France have got a very interesting kicking game and we feel using those two guys will give us the best opportunity.

“For this specific game, we feel Duane (Vermeulen) is the guy we will need, but that doesn’t mean Jasper (Wiese) won’t play in the semi-final. It is based on what we feel we need to get a victory on Sunday.”

Nienaber continued: “If you look at a guy like Cobus, he is playing exceptional rugby, and Faf for that matter. It’s the same with Manie. Handre is a bit different, when you look at the cumulative number of minutes he has played for us this year.

“It is probably one game altogether, so he is slowly building up his minutes. And Manie is probably our in-form flyhalf. I think we have lost one game this year when he has started at 10. The team performs when he starts at 10, it is as simple as that.”

The 5-3 split

The other slight surprise saw the Boks picking a 5-3 bench split for the match, when the 7-1 was a possibility and the 6-2 was arguably the most expected.

“Sometimes we play around with a 7-1, 6-2, 5-3 split on the bench. But it goes back to team selection. You look at the opposition and make a decision based on what you think is the best 23. For this specific game, we felt a 5-3 is the best for us,” said Nienaber,

“When we went 7-1, everyone said there was risk. But with every team selection there is risk. With 5-3, it is perceived as more standard and less risk. But you do mitigate that risk with multiple players being able to play in multiple positions.   

“The last big final we played was against the British and Irish Lions and we went for a 5-3 split there. Morne Steyn was selected and he kicked the last penalty. So it’s not like we haven’t done 5-3s in big games before.

“Maybe people who don’t follow us that often and only in the World Cup might see it as strange, but we have gone for a 5-3 in big games before.”

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