Boks expect ‘grind’ against All Black rivals in World Cup finalFri, 27 Oct 2023 01:10:45 GMT

Defending champions South Africa expect Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final against “greatest foes” New Zealand to be a “grind” as both teams eye what would be a record fourth tournament title.The Springboks and All Blacks share an unparalleled rivalry in the oval-ball sport and have reached the final at the Stade de France thanks largely to dramatic, respective quarter-final victories over France and Ireland, both of whom were fancied to make the latter stages.After northern hemisphere teams finished atop all four pools, hopes were high that the Webb Ellis Cup would go the way of Europe for the first time since England in 2003.But that was not to be. Wales joined France and Ireland for an early shower after falling to Argentina — who went down to New Zealand in the semi-finals — and England lost to the Boks in their last-four clash.So once again the Cup will head southwards, to one of the two most successful World Cup teams, each having previously won three times.South Africa have never lost a World Cup final, winning the 1995, 2007 and 2019 editions. New Zealand won in 1987, 2011 and 2015, but lost that 1995 final to the Springboks in a moment made special by Nelson Mandela’s rallying call as South Africa embarked on its arduous voyage away from the dark days of apartheid.”World Cup finals are not necessarily the most spectacular affairs,” said South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber, who will take over at Irish province Leinster after the tournament in France.”If you look at past games, it is always tight and this one is going to be tight. It’s going to be a grind.”- Once in a lifetime -Nienaber, whose Boks lost 13-8 to Ireland in pool play, said a final pitching the two rivals together “will never happen in our lifetime again”.”It’s probably the biggest occasion that we will ever be part of and probably the biggest rugby game there has ever been.”One and two playing each other in the World Cup final and whoever wins will be the first country to win four World Cups. It’s massive.”All Blacks coach Ian Foster, whose team went down 27-13 to hosts France in the opening game of the tournament in early September, added that the final featured “two teams who have been old foes for a long time”.”We all remember the last final between us (in 1995), which was an epic, and hopefully this one will be the same. Then you do the maths and we’ve got three World Cups each and someone is going to win four, so it’s a special occasion, isn’t it?”Nienaber recalled Faf de Klerk and sharp-shooting Handre Pollard, who kicked 22 points to help South Africa to a thumping 32-12 victory over England in Japan for World Cup glory four years ago, to the starting XV.It is a remarkable journey for Pollard, who failed to make the initial 33-man squad through injury, but was called up as a replacement for Malcolm Marx after a 30-minute comeback in an English Premiership Cup match.Hooker Bongi Mbonambi also starts, having been cleared by World Rugby of having used a racial slur against England’s Tom Curry in last weekend’s semi-final, much to the ire of the English federation.- ‘Back-to-back’ -Nienaber also plumped for seven forwards among the replacements, with just veteran full-back Willie Le Roux representing the backs. Star winger Cheslin Kolbe is prepped to cover half-back while former sevens specialist Kwagga Smith can also play a number of different positions in the backline.”The 23 we selected for a reason and the reason is we think they can deliver and win us a back-to-back World Cup,” said Nienaber, who also employed the same bench split in a record 35-7 victory over the All Blacks in a pre-tournament war-up.Foster had no problem with the Boks’ 7-1 bench split, saying: “It’s what I love about the game. People try different tactics.”They’ve got their way of playing and we’ve got ours. It doesn’t change the way we prepare. Their strategy suits them, ours suits us and it makes it interesting on Saturday night.”Foster made just one change to his starting XV, Brodie Retallick replacing Sam Whitelock in the second row, while tighthead prop and Nepo Laulala, known for his strong scrummaging, replaces Fletcher Newell on the bench.All that is left is for the two teams to renew their rivalry at the Stade de France.