TOKYO (AP) — Siya Kolisi will lead South Africa into the World Cup final against England, giving him the chance to join Francois Pienaar and John Smit as Springboks captains to lift rugby’s most prestigious trophy.
The first black player appointed as Springboks captain, Kolisi’s 50th test cap coincides with Saturday’s final at Yokohama, and event he’s dedicating to all South African people.
Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus, who elevated Kolisi to the captaincy last June, said reaching the final is one more step in South Africa’s aim to get back to the top of world rugby.
“Any Springbok captain carries a heavy load — probably doubly so in Siya’s case — and he has really risen to the occasion over the past two years,” Erasmus said. “No one is hiding from the significance that would be attached to him lifting the trophy on behalf of this team and South Africa.
“But first and foremost on Saturday this is a rugby match that we’re only focused on winning.”
The return of flying winger Cheslin Kolbe, who missed the semifinal because of an ankle injury, to replace S’bu Nkosi is the only change to South Africa’s 23-man squad following the 19-16 semifinal win over Wales.
“I’m really confident that as a player I’m back to my old self, the ankle has really healed up nicely,” Kolbe said. “I’m a firm believer.”
The same 23 started in the group game against Italy and the quarterfinal win over Japan, and Erasmus said he is going for a consistent approach. He has again included six forwards on his eight-man reserves bench.
“Cheslin is world class and he has shown that whenever he has played for us,” Erasmus said. “We have been developing some momentum through the tournament, which has come from consistency, and although we know there are things we can do better this is a fit, well-practiced set of combinations who know what they have to do on Saturday.”
South Africa has won the title both teams it has reached the final, beating New Zealand at Johannesburg in 1995 and England in Paris in 2007. There were no tries scored in either of those games, with the kickers compiling all the points.
Francois Steyn is the only member of the current squad who played in the final in ’07, and he’ll be backline utility cover from the bench.
“The last time it wasn’t so serious for me. I was a little bit young and I just thought there would be another opportunity,” Steyn said of the tournament in France 12 years ago, when he was 20. “Now it’s a little but more serious because I know there won’t be another opportunity — we have to make it count.”
England had a 19-7 win over New Zealand last weekend to end the two-time defending champion All Blacks’ run at a third consecutive title.
“Getting to this stage is not enough for this team,” Erasmus said. “We have what may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to become World Champions — something that would mean so much to our country and our people.
“We do have some challenges in our country … (but) rugby is one of the things that for a few minutes, sometimes when we win for a few hours and days and months, people forget about their disagreements.
“South Africa needs that. We know that we are trying to win for the 23, but also trying to win for South Africa.”
South Africa: Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handré Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (captain), Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira. Reserves: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, RG Snyman, Franco Mostert, Francois Louw, Herschel Jantjies, Frans Steyn.
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