Handre Pollard will play his first Test since August 2022 and Marco van Staden will wear the No 16 jersey as replacement hooker for the first time when the Springboks meet Tonga in Marseille on Sunday, as coach Jacques Nienaber rotated his starting team for their final Rugby World Cup pool match.
The outcome of this match will be crucial in determining which two teams from Pool B advance to the quarter-finals, and who they will play in the top-eight playoff.
Nienaber made 12 changes to the starting team from the one which played Ireland, retaining forwards Siya Kolisi – who will make his 50th appearance as captain – Eben Etzebeth and Jasper Wiese for the must-win clash. Nienaber named a traditional split of five forwards and three backs on the bench.
Pollard makes his first Springbok appearance since playing against Australia in Adelaide before injury forced him out of the subsequent 16 Tests. The clash against Tonga is his second match in 19 weeks since suffering a calf injury for English club Leicester Tigers in the English Premiership in May. He returned to action last week as a replacement in Leicester’s match against Sale Sharks.
The calf injury ruled Pollard out of the initial 33-man RWC squad but he now partners scrumhalf Cobus Reinach at halfback, while Andre Esterhuizen and Canan Moodie are reunited as a hard-running centre combination. Makazole Mapimpi and Grant Williams will patrol the wings as they did against Romania.
Up-front, Deon Fourie will earn his first start in the Springbok jersey at hooker in a front row with props Ox Nche and Vincent Koch, while Etzebeth and Marvin Orie will support them in the second row.
Koch’s inclusion marks his first start in the green and gold jumper since the RWC pool game against Canada on 8 October 2019 after he was withdrawn from the matchday squad against Romania two weeks ago due to a knee injury suffered in the warm-up.
The only change Nienaber made among the loose forwards was at flanker, where regular No 8 Duane Vermeulen will wear the No 7 jersey in a formidable combination with Kolisi and Wiese.
The most notable change on Nienaber’s bench was the inclusion of Van Staden at hooker, next to prop replacements Steven Kitshoff and Trevor Nyakane, while the versatile Franco Mostert and Kwagga Smith will complete the forward complement on the bench.
The three backline players on the bench are scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse, centre Jesse Kriel and flyhalf Manie Libbok.
In total, 13 players in the match-23 were retained from last week’s 13-8 defeat against Ireland.
“This is a strong and physical team, which is exactly what need against a side like Tonga that plays with passion and force,” said Nienaber.
“Each one of us understands the importance of this match with an eye on qualifying for the quarter-final, so accurate execution, physicality and doing our basics right will be vital to get the desired result.”
Nienaber expected a major physical challenge from Tonga: “They will enter with the mindset that they have nothing to lose after going down in their opening two matches of the tournament, so they won’t hold back.
“They had impressive moments in their matches against Scotland and Ireland, so this will require a full 80-minute effort. The emphasis for us will be on doing what we need to do to progress out of the pool stages and to bounce back from last week and build momentum.
“We are still in the World Cup, and we know we have the players and skills to defend our title. We now need to transfer all the hard work at training into producing a top-quality performance,” Nienaber added.
Springbok team vs Tonga in Marseille:
15 – Willie le Roux (Vodacom Bulls) – 89 caps, 70 pts (14t)
14 – Grant Williams (Hollywoodbets Sharks) – 7 caps, 10 (2t)
13 – Canan Moodie (Vodacom Bulls) – 9 caps, 20 pts (4t)
12 – Andre Esterhuizen (Harlequins) – 15 caps, 0pts
11 – Makazole Mapimpi (Hollywoodbets Sharks) – 40 caps, 130 pts (26t)
10 – Handre Pollard (Leicester Tigers) – 67 caps, 665 pts (7t, 91c, 145pg, 5d)
9 – Cobus Reinach (Montpellier) – 29 caps, 60 pts (12t)
8 – Jasper Wiese (Leicester Tigers) – 25 caps, 5 pts (1t)
7 – Duane Vermeulen (SA Rugby) – 72 caps, 15 pts (3t)
6 – Siya Kolisi (captain, Racing 92) – 78 caps, 50 pts (10t)
5 – Marvin Orie (DHL Stormers) – 15 caps, 0 pts
4 – Eben Etzebeth (Hollywoodbets Sharks) – 115 caps, 25 pts (5t)
3 – Vincent Koch (Hollywoodbets Sharks) – 46 caps, 0pts
2 – Deon Fourie (DHL Stormers) – 9 caps, 5 pts (1t)
1 – Ox Nche (Hollywoodbets Sharks) – 24 caps, 0 pts
16 – Marco van Staden (Vodacom Bulls) – 17 caps, 0 pts
17 – Steven Kitshoff (Ulster) – 78 caps, 10 pts (2t)
18 – Trevor Nyakane (Racing 92) – 65 caps, 5 pts (1t)
19 – Franco Mostert (Honda Heat) – 69 caps, 15 pts (3t)
20 – Kwagga Smith (Shizuoka Blue Revs) – 36 caps, 30 pts (6t)
21 – Jaden Hendrikse (Hollywoodbets Sharks) – 14 caps, 12 pts (2t, 1c)
22 – Jesse Kriel (Canon Eagles) – 64 caps, 70 pts (14t)
23 – Manie Libbok (DHL Stormers) – 11 caps, 74 pts (1t, 21c, 9pg)