Ross Roche

By Ross Roche

Senior sports writer

History will mean nothing when Boks and England clash, says Nienaber

"Any team can beat any team on the day."

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber is preparing his side for a tough Rugby World Cup semifinal clash against England at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis on Saturday night.

The Boks surprisingly named an unchanged match 23 from their quarterfinal win over France for the game against England, with it just the second time in 64 matches under SA Rugby director of rugby Rassie Erasmus and Nienaber that the same team has been picked for consecutive matches.

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Despite England not being seen as big a threat as France, the Boks are taking them very seriously as seen by the coaches picking the same squad for the match, and they will not be underestimating the opposition despite their being favourites.

“England went into the previous (2019) World Cup semifinal against New Zealand probably being the underdog (and won). The reality is we’re facing a good England side,” said Nienaber on Thursday.

“We don’t look at history but we know that where we were in 2019, any team can beat any team on the day. This game is not bigger than the game against France and it’s not bigger than the World Cup final. If you lose this game, you are out, so there is everything to gain.”

Star players

The Boks had a chance to name two star players of the English Premiership in their side for the game in eighthman Jasper Wiese and inside centre Andre Esterhuizen, who know the English game very well, but decided against it in the end.

“If we rotated and maybe started with Jasper or Andre Esterhuizen, they play against the English players a lot, and they were the top performers in the English league so you do look at things like that,” admitted Nienaber.

“But the gap is very small (between those in the match 23 and those who aren’t). We have 33 players who are good enough and who have had enough exposure over the last 10 or 11 Tests that are match fit and are all performing.”

Nienaber highlighted the coaching changes that England underwent at the end of last year, that saw Eddie Jones replaced with Steve Borthwick, that are starting to bear fruit and that they were now a stronger side than they were earlier in the year.

“They have a completely new coaching team and I think Steve has embedded a new game model that was different to the previous one under Eddie,” said Nienaber.

“Like anything, it takes some time to get used to it and comfortable. I think the more time they have spent together the more comfortable they are with it.”