Ross Roche

By Ross Roche

Senior sports writer

Nienaber says Boks covered with 7-1 bench — Kolbe the back-up scrumhalf

"It is not about individual selection. It is for South Africa."

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber believes that they have selected the best 23 players that will be able to beat the All Blacks and lift the Webb Ellis Cup when they battle out the Rugby World Cup final at the Stade de France on Saturday night.

The Boks sprung a surprise on Thursday when they once again backed the controversial 7-1 split of forwards to backs for the vital encounter in Saint-Denis.

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They have rolled out the split on two previous occasions, in their 35-7 win over the All Blacks at Twickenham and in their 13-8 loss against Ireland during the World Cup pool stage.

Fully confident

But Nienaber is fully confident that the players picked and the bench split will be able to do the job on game day.

“I’m not going to say what the strengths and weaknesses of the All Blacks are, that would be stupid. But a lot of analysis went into it and at the end we went with a squad of 23. It could have been 6:2, 5:3, it doesn’t matter,” explained Nienaber.

“You select a team that you think can get a result. The 23 we selected for a reason, and the reason is we think they can deliver and win us a back-to-back World Cups.

“We explain to the whole squad why we are going a certain route. It is not about individual selection. It is for South Africa. As selectors we know there will be pressure on us if we don’t deliver a result but at the back of our minds we know this selection is for South Africa.

“The players take it like that. It is not about person or ego, not that they have egos, but you can’t think of that. You have to think about South Africa and the Springboks.”

The risk of the 7-1 split is that if there are a couple of early backline injuries the team could find themselves in big trouble in the match.

Bok versatility

However, the versatility of the Bok players gives the management confidence in backing it, as loose forward Kwagga Smith could play wing or centre in a pinch, while the only back on the bench Willie le Roux covers multiple positions and wing Cheslin Kolbe could slot in at scrumhalf if needed.

“The team is not 15, it is 23. We always say that. When you do squad selection there are a lot of things that influence that from medical to past performances and a lot of analysis into New Zealand and where we think we can get the edge on them,” said Nienaber.

“Then the discussions start between the coaches and it goes from a 5:3 to a 6:2 to a 7:1, then it goes back again. It is not a 10-minute discussion, it is hours and hours.

“From a performance point of view, there is not a big gap. As coaches you always mitigate risk by prepping other people.

“In our case it will be Cheslin. He played sweeper in sevens which is the equivalent to scrumhalf. He has always been a guy who, if we got a yellow card, would be the stand in halfback, not just this week but for a couple of weeks.”

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