Strength in depth and the positional versatility of the 33-strong squad were behind South Africa’s record fourth World Cup title, coach Jacques Nienaber said, warning not to dub his staff “geniuses” over their leftfield selection.
Cobus Reinach and Manie Libbok had been first-choice half-backs in the run-up to Saturday’s final in which South Africa edged New Zealand 12-11.
But Nienaber rang the changes for the final at the Stade de France, recalling Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard, the architects of the 2019 World Cup-winning team in Japan.
He also went for a replacements’ bench comprising seven forwards and just one back in Willie Le Roux, backing the players he picked to play to their strengths.
Pollard hadn’t even made the initial squad and was only called up as an injury replacement for hooker Malcom Marx. That had left the squad with just one specialist hooker in Bongi Mbonambi.
As it turned out, Mbonambi went off injured within minutes of the kickoff, replaced by 37-year-old flanker-turned-hooker Deon Fourie.
“I’m not saying we’re geniuses!” said Nienaber, who took over from Rassie Erasmus as head coach after the latter had led the Boks to glory in Japan before taking up a director of rugby role.
“We don’t try and be creative and think out of the box.
“It’s not genius, it’s just that the players we have have the ability to give us different tactical viewpoints.
“It’s the strength of the group, it’s 33 players who understand their roles, they don’t have egos and they buy into it.
“That gives us the opportunity to maybe go a little bit different than normal.”
Nienaber said the country’s record fourth title after previous successes in 1995, 2007 and 2019, had been long in the planning.
“We came a long way with the players,” he said. “We always planned for this World Cup, since 2018. Massive credit to our fans.
“They were special from South Africa, 62 million people, the videos we had to play from them. It was unbelievable.”
Selecting Pollard, who kicked four first-half penalties, was straightforward, Nienaber said.
“Manie probably deserves it, a guy like Cobus deserves it when you think about what they’ve done in the quarter-final and semi-finals.
“The one thing we do have is we have 33 players that are the right players — not necessarily the best players in their positions, but they’re the right players.
“When we go with a strategy, we explain it, a guy like Cobus and a guy like Manie accept it.”
Nienaber also heaped praise on “phenomenal” flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit, who delivered 28 crunching tackles — and the tireless Jordie Barrett merited a special mention.
“If there’s a white plastic bag that blows over the pitch, he’d probably chase that down as well!” joked Nienaber.
World Cup News
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