TOKYO, Oct 31 ― South Africa have named Cheslin Kolbe in the team to play England in Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final after the electric winger recovered from an ankle injury that saw him miss the semi-finals.
Kolbe’s return, in place of S’Busiso Nkosi, is the sole change coach Rassie Erasmus made from last weekend’s gruelling 19-16 semi-final win over Wales.
“Chessie is fully fit and ready to go,” said Erasmus.
“It’s tough on Sbu to drop out of the 23 altogether but, like the other seven, non-playing squad members ― and the two injured players back home (Trevor Nyakane and Jesse Kriel) ― he has made vital contributions to our campaign.”
Erasmus, whose side beat hosts Japan 26-3 in the quarter-finals after qualifying as pool runners-up due to losing their opener to New Zealand, said he had no qualms about not tinkering with his squad.
“We have been developing some momentum through the tournament, which has come from consistency,” said the former international flanker.
“Although we know there are things we can do better, this is a fit, well-practiced set of combinations who know what they have to do on Saturday.”
Erasmus only took over the Springboks last year, but has transformed the side that failed to shine under Allister Coetzee, who was sacked after managing just 11 wins in his 25 games in charge.
The Boks’ turnaround has seen them lose only once in 11 Tests in 2019, during which they claimed the Rugby Championship for the first time since 2009 and climb back into the top two of the World Rugby rankings for the first time since August 2015.
“Getting to this stage is not enough for this team,” said Erasmus.
“We now have what may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to become world champions ― something that would mean so much to our country and our people.
“We know the excitement that there is back home and that the country may well be coming to a standstill on Saturday lunchtime in South Africa. There’s a huge weight of expectation.
“We may not be favourites but these players will leave nothing in the tank. We know how the wins in 1995 and 2007 lifted the country ― even if it was momentarily. We want to give South Africa that experience once again.”
Erasmus had a special word for skipper Siya Kolisi, who will captain the Boks in Yokohama on his 50th cap.
“It’s a great achievement for Siya,” Erasmus said of Kolisi, who became the first black skipper of South Africa when he was appointed.
“Any Springbok captain carries a heavy load ― probably doubly so in Siya’s case ― and he has really risen to the occasion over the past two years.
“No one is hiding from the significance that would be attached to him lifting the trophy on behalf of this team and South Africa. But first and foremost on Saturday this is a rugby match that we’re only focused on winning.”
South Africa (15-1)
Willie Le Roux; Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi; Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Steph Du Toit, Siya Kolisi (capt); Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth; Frans Malherbe, Mbongeni Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, RG Snyman, Franco Mostert, Francois Louw, Herschel Jantjies, Frans Steyn ― AFP