South Africa opt to place faith in tried and trusted

While this is a very recognisable Springboks selection, there are suggestions of some subtle tweaks

This then, looks like a very typical Springboks selection.

There is the bulk of their World Cup winners, 14 in all from the final against England who feature in this match-day 23. There is big physical power aplenty, and the intimidating 6-2 split on the bench.

True to type, the Boks have come to beat Ireland up next Saturday at the Aviva Stadium.

Yet there are interesting tweaks and modifications too, which are almost un-Boks like. To begin with there’s the smallest back three which they have selected in quite some time, with Cheslin Kolbe (10 tries in 20 Tests off the wing) given even more licence to roam and to thrill, so creating room for the electric Kurt-Lee Arendse in his normal slot on the right wing.


In tandem with Makazole Mapimpi, who has 20 tries in 33 caps, and along with Kolbe scored the Boks’ two tries against England in Tokyo (South Africa’s only two tries in three winning finals), this remodelled back three pose a counter-attacking threat.

As Jacques Nienaber said, if Ireland’s kicking game is any way off, this trio can “create magic”. You don’t often hear Boks’ coaches talk like that.

As expected, in the absence of the influential Lukhanyo Am, Jesse Kriel is restored alongside Damian de Allende, which takes from the Boks’ creative game in the outside channels but adds to their defence.

Countering this, in another injury enforced change, Damian Willemse starts at outhalf for the third time in the Boks’ last four Tests, having previously been a utility back off the bench or the 15 in his previous six starts.

However, his switch to 10 at half-time helped the Boks’ overturn an 18-3 deficit at the interval in the first Test against Wales. His performances at outhalf showcased what a talented, passing and strong, individual running threat Willemse can be, albeit he may not have the astute kicking range of the absent Handre Pollard.

The latter is also a brilliant goal-kicker, and that area could be a potential concern for the world champions. That said, there is plenty of goal-kicking back-up for Willemse, be it Kolbe (who is also covering outhalf), or either of the scrumhalves.

There again, there is another change from the World Cup, as Jaden Hendrikse starts ahead of Faf de Klerk, having usurped him halfway through the Rugby Championship. The 21-year-old Hendrikse has more of a running threat, is physically strong and has a certain feistiness to him.

While the 6-2 split is a trademark statement of intent, there are modifications too, with Steven Kitshoff, Malcom Marx and Franco Mostert all previous members of the ‘bomb squad’ who are now starting. Save for the in-form Etzebeth, Marx has played the most minutes of any Boks’ forward this year.

He has usually been preferred for an impact role, but with Bongi Mbonambi sidelined until the final game of the Rugby Championship, Marx keeps his starting slot. If this means sacrificing his threat over the ball in the final 20 or 30 minutes, it is offset by the inclusion of Deon Fourie and Kwagga Smith on the bench.

Relatively small by bomb squad standards, both are excellent over the ball and Jacques Nienaber effectively admitted that their inclusion was largely with a view to slowing down the speed of Ireland’s recycling particularly when the game opens up in last quarter or so.

So while this is an instantly recognisable selection by the most settled side in the world game over the last five years or more, there are some subtle variations.

South Africa (v Ireland): Cheslin Kolbe; Kurt-Lee Arendse; Jesse Kriel; Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi; Damian Willemse; Jaden Hendrikse; Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx; Frans Malherbe; Eben Etzebeth; Lood de Jager; Siya Kolisi (captain), Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jasper Wiese. Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nche, Vincent Koch, Franco Mostert, Deon Fourie, Kwagga Smith, Faf de Klerk, Willie le Roux.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times