No ‘bluffing’ as Springboks lay it all on the table
NO bluffing. No strategic leaking of the team. The Springboks can't see the point in being anything but direct ahead of the Rugby World Cup final against England.
Cheslin Kolbe is likely to return from injury to take his place in South Africa's match-day 23 on Saturday, the only expected change to the squad picked for the grinding 19-16 semifinal win over Wales.
They're leaving any of the intrigue to Eddie Jones, the Australian coach of England who specialises in that department.
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Four days ahead of time - the deadline for team announcements is 48 hours before kick-off - Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus confirmed he had a fully-fit 31 man squad available but would stick as much as possible to what has been established as the so-called 15 and "bomb squad" - an eight-man reserves bench containing six forwards.
Attacking winger Kolbe missed the Wales game because of an ankle injury and was replaced by S'bu Nkosi, who had limited opportunities in a contest dominated by set pieces, rucks and box kicks.
Kolbe was voted player of the match after scoring two tries in South Africa's group-stage win over Italy, and started in the opening loss to New Zealand and in the quarterfinal win over Japan. Small in stature, he uses his explosive turn of speed to create opportunities and offsets perfectly the big South African forwards.
Erasmus was asked if his openness about team selections was a ruse to match Jones in the pre-final mind games.
"No, not bluffing. It will probably be exactly the same 23, with Cheslin Kolbe being one of the guys who will probably come into the match-day 23," Erasmus said. "I've got 160 minutes to train, and a six-day turnaround, so there's not a lot we can change in those two training sessions.
"There's not a hell of a lot in your tactics that you can change in six days."
Erasmus has gone for six forwards on the eight-man reserves bench, allowing backup for a big starting scrum that serves as a foundation of the Springboks game plan.
"We believe that's how we can get the most out of it," Erasmus said. "It is a bit of horses for courses, but we believe it's our fit, form, best available, best combination team."
The South Africans are expecting England to meet fire with fire up front, with Erasmus saying the English took physicality to the "next level" in the way they started the 19-7 semifinal win against the two-time defending champion New Zealand All Blacks.
"What I do expect on the field is a very well-coached England team. A fit England team with a great tactical plan, and then obviously the physicality that England brought to New Zealand was just next level last Saturday," he said.
"It's been a long time since I saw an England team pitch up with that amount of physicality. They must be brimming with confidence, and I'm sure they are ready to bring that same intensity. We will have to be really up to try and match that."