Nkosi replaces Kolbe in only change for Springboks SF squad
TOKYO (AP) — There may be a silver lining in South Africa’s decision to go into the Rugby World Cup semifinals without Cheslin Kolbe, unquestionably one of the most exciting attacking players in the game.
Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus picked S’bu Nkosi to replace Kolbe in the only change to his lineup for Sunday’s knockout game against Wales, saying the flying winger hasn’t recovered from an ankle injury he picked up in the group stage and it adversely impacted his performance in last weekend’s 26-3 quarterfinal win over Japan.
“Cheslin’s top-end speed and agility is probably one of the best in world rugby — that is definitely something we will miss,” Erasmus said. “But aerially, (Nkosi) is right up there with what Cheslin and most of the best players in the world can do. And power-wise, he brings something totally different to the party.”
Asked if he’d have risked playing Kolbe if it were the final, Erasmus may have given away his bigger picture strategy.
“A guy like Cheslin, there are two reasons why we didn’t select him,” Erasmus explained. “Hopefully we get to the final, and then he is fully fit.”
It’s the same reason he’s persisting with having six forwards on his eight-man bench to reinforce the starting XV against Wales.
“We’re playing with a 6-2 split because it really saves energy in your tight-five to spread the load,” he said. “Although people think it is putting more load on your backline players, playing six forwards takes a lot of pressure off your backs.
“It really helps a lot if you’ve got a tight-five that’s fresh — we’ve done some things to be in a better position for next week.”
Not that he’s taking Wales lightly, after South Africa lost all four meetings with the Welsh since beating them in the 2015 quarterfinals. Unlike the quarterfinals, though, there’s another game guaranteed with the winners advancing to the final and the losers this weekend playing off for bronze.
Erasmus has been widely praised for South Africa’s revival since he took over last season, reverting to the Springboks’ traditionally direct, physical style and winning the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship.
An opening loss to the two-time defending champion All Blacks was a setback in Japan, but it meant avoiding former winners New Zealand and England in the semifinals.
Erasmus has stuck with his starting pack for three games, so there’s consistency, and there’s plenty of firepower out wide even in the absence of Kolbe.
Nkosi has scored eight tries in his first 10 tests. Makazole Mapimpi has scored five tries so far in the World Cup on the left wing, including a pair in the quarterfinal, and has 13 tries in all in his first dozen tests.
Losing Kolbe “is a big blow. Everybody knows the quality of player he is, and the contribution he has made,” Erasmus said. But “a 70% Cheslin isn’t better than a 100% S’bu. So, it is a blow, but we have full confidence in S’bu. He certainly deserves his chance.”
The Springboks squad contains 10 players involved in the quarterfinal win over Wales four years ago, and nine who are making a second semifinal appearance after losing to New Zealand four years ago.
“We have been working hard for 18 months to put ourselves in a position to win the Rugby World Cup and that opportunity is now just 80 minutes away,” Erasmus said. “These players have worked with unbelievable energy to get Springbok rugby back into this position.”
Wales has had the better of South Africa since the last World Cup, but Erasmus said he has a full squad to select from and has full confidence of ending that streak.
“We have been under pressure for the past couple of years to redeem ourselves. We’ve been No. 5, 6 or 7 in the world since 2015, and we’ve got some proper hidings,” Erasmus said. “Some people lost a lot of faith in us at some stages, so we’ve got a different challenge all in all.
“We were just trying to get some respect back at the beginning, so that people could start believing in us as a team. Now we are at that stage where we want to become No. 1 in the world again.”
South Africa: Willie le Roux, S’bu Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handré Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (captain), Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira. Reserves: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, RG Snyman, Franco Mostert, Francois Louw, Herschel Jantjies, Frans Steyn.