Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has named an unchanged starting XV to face New Zealand in the first Rugby World Cup semifinal, on Saturday at Twickenham in London.
The only change to the matchday squad is at replacement lock, where Victor Matfield has overcome his hamstring injury and takes over from new DHL Stormers signing Pieter-Steph du Toit, bringing even more experience to the bench.
It’s the first time since last November that Meyer has been able to name an unchanged team for back-to-back Tests and the sixth time only since his appointment in 2012.
“It’s great to be able to give another run to the team that got us through to the semifinals in the biggest Test of the year,” said Meyer.
“Victor’s inclusion on the bench gives us even more experience there and, as we saw last weekend against Wales, when the replacements did very well towards the end of the match, this will be crucial. His influence will also be pivotal against a strong New Zealand line-out.”
Meyer said his team is braced for a massive onslaught on Saturday.
“We’re playing against the defending champions and the top-ranked side in the world, but the current New Zealand side can also be regarded as arguably one of the best Test teams ever,” said Meyer.
“We have the utmost respect for their players and coaching staff and although there is an intense rivalry we actually get along very well away from the field.
“But we have to believe we can beat them otherwise we’ll be wasting our time on Saturday. We will have to be at our ultimate best and although we played some excellent rugby against Wales, there are always things to improve on.
“Tests against New Zealand are very intense and the margins over the last couple of years have been small. We’re not expecting anything different this weekend and the self-belief is there.
“Everyone in our group is massively excited about Saturday’s challenge. For many players this will be an once-in-a-lifetime occasion and we want to go out there and make it count in front of what will be a magnificent crowd at a superb stadium.”
Lood de Jager will undergo a late fitness assessment on Friday after which a call on his availability will be made. If he cannot play, Matfield will start with Pieter-Steph du Toit on the bench.
The Springbok team to face New Zealand in London is as follows:
15. Willie le Roux (Toyota FS Cheetahs) – 32 caps
14. JP Pietersen (Cell C Sharks) – 64
13. Jesse Kriel (Vodacom Bulls) – 9
12. Damian de Allende (DHL Stormers) – 11
11. Bryan Habana (Toulon) – 115
10. Handré Pollard (Vodacom Bulls) – 18
9. Fourie du Preez (Suntory – captain) – 75
8. Duane Vermeulen (DHL Stormers) – 33
7. Schalk Burger (DHL Stormers) – 84
6. Francois Louw (Bath) – 41
5. Lood de Jager (Toyota Cheetahs) – 17
4. Eben Etzebeth (DHL Stormers) – 42
3. Frans Malherbe (DHL Stormers) – 10
2. Bismarck du Plessis (Cell C Sharks) – 77
1. Tendai Mtawarira (Cell C Sharks) – 73
16. Adriaan Strauss (Vodacom Bulls) – 52
17. Trevor Nyakane (Vodacom Bulls) – 21
18. Jannie du Plessis (Cell C Sharks) – 68
19. Victor Matfield (Vodacom Bulls) – 125
20. Willem Alberts (Cell C Sharks) – 36
21. Ruan Pienaar (Ulster) – 87
22. Pat Lambie (Cell C Sharks) – 48
23. Jan Serfontein (Vodacom Bulls) – 24
STATS AND FACTS:
– South Africa and New Zealand have played three Tests in RWC tournaments. The first was in the memorable 1995 tournament when the Springboks won the World Cup in extra-time at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. The final score was 15-12.
– Four years later in 1999, the two rivals met in Cardiff to contest the third-place play-off after New Zealand lost to France in the semifinals while Australia won the other semifinal in extra-time against the Springboks. South Africa won the bronze medal in a close-fought battle 22-18.
– The last time was in 2003 in Melbourne in the quarter-final when the All Blacks had a comfortable 29-9 win.
– Saturday’s Test match will be the 91st between the two countries. South Africa’s record against New Zealand: P: 90; W: 35; L: 52; D: 3; PF: 1 412; PA: 1 745; Win%: 39%.
– The total Test caps for the Springbok starting line-up is 701. There are 324 caps in the backline with 377 caps amongst the forwards. On the bench there are a further 461 caps.
– Bryan Habana will extend his record as the most-capped Springbok wing, with 114 caps in this position. He is the most experienced Springbok backline player with 115 caps and only Victor Matfield (125) has played in more Test matches for South Africa.
– If he scores a try, Bryan will extend his record of 64 Test tries for South Africa. Currently he is joint second on the list for most Test tries. David Campese of Australia is the other player. First on the list is Daisuke Ohata of Japan on 69 career tries.
– Bryan is the new world record holder for most Test tries as a wing. He surpassed the previous record of Daisuke Ohata of Japan (62) during the pool match against the USA.
– Bryan is the joint record holder for most career tries (15) in RWC tournaments. He can become sole record holder by scoring just one try. Jonah Lomu of New Zealand is the other player with 15 career tries. Close on Bryan’s heels is Drew Mitchell of Australia with 14 RWC career tries.
– Bryan also holds the record for most career tries (seven) by a Springbok against New Zealand.
– Bryan and JP Pietersen will be playing in their record 43rd Test as a wing combination in the starting XV.
– Handré Pollard needs three penalty goals to equal Percy Montgomery’s RWC record of 17 career penalty goals.
– Schalk Burger will play in his 78th Test as a flank, South Africa’s most-capped Springbok flank. Saturday’s Test will be his 19th RWC Test, the most by a Springbok in RWC tournaments. He is also the Springbok record holder for most tries as a flank (14) as well as a forward (16).
– Bismarck du Plessis is the Springbok record holder for most tries (11) in Tests as a hooker.
– Should Ruan Pienaar be used from the bench he will become South Africa’s most-capped substitute. Currently, he shares the record with Ollie le Roux on 43 Test matches as a substitute.
– Should Victor Matfield be used as a substitute he will extend his record as the most-capped Springbok as well as the most-capped Springbok against New Zealand – he has played in 26 career Tests against the All Blacks.
– The referee is Jérôme Garcès of France. He debut as an international referee was in 2010 in a match between England and the Barbarians. He served as assistant referee in four Tests during the 2011 RWC. During this tournament he was referee in three Test matches -including the South Africa/Japan Test during the first week. It will be his seventh Test involving South Africa. Of the previous six Tests, South Africa won three and lost three.
– Twickenham Stadium is the largest dedicated rugby union venue in the world, the second largest stadium in the United Kingdom and fourth largest in Europe. This is the venue for this first semifinal match of RWC 2015. Twickenham has a seating capacity of 81,605.
– South Africa have played 21 Test matches at this stadium, winning 12 and losing nine. Nineteen matches were against England. The other two were against Australia in the 1999 RWC semifinal and against Wales last Saturday.
Springbok Test match record holders at Twickenham:
– Most points: 21 by Jannie de Beer (6p, 1d) against Australia, October 30, 1999
– Most tries: Two by Chester Williams against England, November 18, 1995
– Most conversions: Three by Ruan Pienaar against England, November 22, 2008
– Most penalty goals: Six by Jannie de Beer against Australia, October 30, 1999
– Most drop-goals: Four by André Pretorius against England, November 25, 2006