Springboks go for experience in bid to avoid Brighton repeat
TOKYO (AP) — Tendai Mtawarira and Bongi Mbonambi have forced their way into the starting pack as coach Rassie Erasmus takes a big-is-best policy into South Africa’s Rugby World Cup quarterfinal against Japan.
Erasmus is relying mostly on the players who started in the Pool B opener against defending champion New Zealand, but has added veteran prop Mtawarira and hooker Mbonambi on the basis of form over the tournament and their expected impact on the set pieces.
Mbonambi got the start over Malcolm Marx, Erasmus said, because “Bongi is definitely a more physical, brutal, scrummaging, in-your-face hooker.” Marx can add some fresh legs in the second half, when the Springboks expect to bolster the forwards with up to six reserves.
“It’s no secret,” Erasmus said of the plan to try to outmuscle the smaller but faster Japan pack. The idea is to “nullify the space around the tight forwards, with the pace that they have. And to play toward our strengths, which is physical rugby, set-phases, mauling, scrums.
“We will definitely try to play the game at our pace.”
Mtawarira, lock Lood De Jager and flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit started in the upset 34-32 loss to Japan at the 2015 World Cup, the biggest shocker in the tournament’s history that has since been dubbed the Miracle in Brighton.
Erasmus is confident the Springboks of 2019 are in a better place than the squad of 2015.
The 34-year-old Mtawarira will be making his 100th appearance in the starting XV, and earning his 115th test cap overall. Lock Eben Etzebeth and flyhalf Handre Pollard start on Sunday but came off the bench in that game in Brighton four years ago.
The Springboks finished second in their group after the loss to New Zealand, when they conceded two quick tries in an otherwise tight contest
Captain Siya Kolisi and Damian de Allende, who switches from outside to inside center, are the only players backing up in the starting XV from South Africa’s last game — a 66-7 win over Canada in Kobe last week.
Japan topped Pool A with wins over Russia, Ireland, Samoa and Scotland and has qualified for the quarterfinals for the first time.
“Japan are a well-coached team and have deservedly climbed to seventh in the world rankings,” Erasmus said. “It’ll be a good challenge, but we’re definitely up for it.”
The match-day 23 contains 21 players who were involved in the 41-7 World Cup warmup win over Japan at Kumagaya six weeks ago, with the only absentees being injured prop Trevor Nyakane and center Jesse Kriel.
“You need that experience when it comes to handling the pressure situations we will face on Sunday, and I think we’ve achieved that now,” Erasmus said.
The winner at Tokyo Stadium will advance to a semifinal against either Six Nations champion Wales or France.
Springboks assistant coach Matthew Proudfoot has experience coaching in Japan’s domestic competition, and knows the national team will be getting most of the support at the ground and from neutral fans.
“But the way we handle this wouldn’t be any different to how we handle the New Zealand mindset, or facing England at Twickenham,” Proudfoot said. “We focus on our battles, and where our pressure points are going to be, and we relish that opportunity to play in this amazing occasion, in an amazing stadium with a passionate crowd.”
“To play in that environment . it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it,” he said. “So, I don’t think we are sitting and thinking ‘Ah, the rest of the world wants us to get beaten.’”
South Africa: Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, 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.