South Africa are in confident mood ahead of their World Cup showdown with Scotland — after taking the bold step to name their team two days early.
The reigning world champions had initially planned to announce their line-up on Friday, two days out from the game and in line with Scotland.
But bullish Boks head coach Jacques Nienaber has gone early — and has picked a fully-loaded team for what is shaping up to be a mouthwatering clash in Marseille.
Star scrum-half Faf de Klerk will win his 50th Test cap, with the talismanic Siya Kolisi captaining the side from the back row.
From a Scottish perspective, this looks like an early flex of South Africa’s muscle for them to bring their team announcement forward to such an early point in the week.
South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber has named his sides starting lineup two days early
South Africa scrum-half Faf de Klerk will be making his 50th Test appearance against Scotland
The Springboks are without winger/fullback Canan Moodie who is out with a hamstring injury
‘We’ve been working hard in the last few weeks to make sure we are as prepared as possible going into this match and we are fully aware of the challenge that awaits us,’ said Nienaber.
‘Scotland are a quality team with a strong pack and skilful backs. They play with a lot of intensity, so we need to be sharp on attack and defence on Sunday.
‘They have proved in the last few seasons that they can beat any team and, with this being the opening game of the World Cup for both sides, they will be equally as charged-up as us for the match.’
Despite going with a remarkable seven-one split on the bench in their record win over the All Blacks a fortnight ago, Nienaber has reverted back to the more traditional South African tactic of a six-two split.
The so-called ‘bomb squad’ of six forwards on the bench is made up of Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nche, Trevor Nyakane, RG Snyman, Marco van Staden and Duane Vermeulen.
Canan Moodie, who has injected some real pace and dynamism into the Boks’ attack in recent months, misses out due to a slight hamstring problem.
But, nonetheless, it’s still a backline which oozes power and quality, with Cheslin Kolbe and Kurt-Lee Arendse on the wings, Jesse Kriel and Damian de Allende in the centres, and the impressive Manie Libbok orchestrating things at fly-half.
Scotland will be hoping for some magic from star fly-half Finn Russell, who plays for Bath
South Africa are the reigning Rugby World Cup champions, beating England in the final in 2019
‘We are pleased with the squad depth we have built in the last few months, and we believe this group of players strikes the right balance to achieve the result we need against Scotland,’ said Nienaber.
‘We are very excited about this occasion. We’ve been building for this World Cup for the last four years and we are thrilled to get our campaign started.
‘We’ve been working hard in the last few weeks to make sure we are as prepared as possible going into this match and we are fully aware of the challenge that awaits us.’
Nienaber commended De Klerk for reaching a career milestone, saying: ‘Earning 50 Test caps is a massive achievement and to mark that feat in the opening game of the Rugby World Cup makes it very special.
‘Faf has been a key member of our team for a few years, so we are delighted for him. Needless to say, we’re all focused on making sure it’s a memorable occasion for him and the rest of us.’
Meanwhile, Scotland forwards coach John Dalziel has revealed that Darcy Graham, who hasn’t played a competitive fixture for five weeks, is fully fit.
The first-choice winger had been a major doubt after only resuming training last Tuesday following a quad injury, which forced him to miss the final World Cup warm-up match against Georgia at Murrayfield.
Dalziel, speaking after watching Graham train for the second day in a row in Nice, said: ‘Wednesday was his second day training and if selected, he is ready to go.
South Africa recently dominated southern hemisphere rivals New Zealand at Twickenham
‘Wednesday tends to be our more physical training day as the end of the week tends to be more the speed element and the contact.’
Dalziel is confident the Scotland forward pack won’t be overpowered despite the Springboks being renowned for their raw strength.
‘They like the power game as it’s worked very well for them over the years and they are a team who make a lot of forward replacements early sometimes,’ he said. ‘Their “bomb squad” that comes off the bench doesn’t always come on at the end of the game. Strategically, tactically, it’s something they do but we are ready.
‘We have a strong forward starting pack and, in the last three performances for us, our bench have had a huge impact.
‘We chose to go 6/2 in the French game and it worked really well for us in terms of the squad. When they come on and perform at that level, with that energy, it’s great.
‘Whichever way South Africa go with their bench, we know we’re going to get great impact from ours. It’s going to be tough enough picking that starting XV after the prep we’ve had and we’re really splitting hairs on a few positions.
‘South Africa sometimes get tagged as just bully-boys with a big pack, but they are very inventive in what they do.
‘They’ve always been a team I’ve admired, certainly from a set-piece point of view and how they can dominate in that area of the game, so it is exciting as a coach to go up against that with the team we have.’
Springbok’s flanker and captain Siya Kolisi will hope to win back to back Rugby World Cups