After a call-up to South Africa’s squad following Malcolm Marx’s Rugby World Cup-ending injury, Handré Pollard starts at 10 against Tonga in Marseille on Sunday, winning his first Springbok cap since August 2022.
Pollard is one of 12 changes of personnel to the Springboks’ starting line-up after their 13-8 loss to Ireland, with second-row Eben Etzebeth, captain Siya Kolisi - who leads the Springboks for the 50th time - and number eight Jasper Wiese the only players to retain their spots in the pack, while the whole backline has changed.
Duane Vermeulen, normally a number eight, starts at openside for the first time since November 2018 against France, and for only the third time in his 72-cap career.
Semisi Paea steps into the breach at number eight for Tonga, following Vaea Fifita’s four-game suspension, in a starting XV showing three changes to the one beaten by Scotland last time out, as coach Toutai Kefu strives to find the right combinations to unlock his team’s attacking potential. He’s also made two changes on both wings, with Anzelo Tuitavuki coming in for his Rugby World Cup debut on the left and Fine Inisi starting on the right.
Crucially, however, the front row trio of loose-head Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, hooker Paula Ngauamo and tight-head and captain Ben Tameifuna starts for the third match in a row. Between them, they have 15 career RWC appearances, and they will have their eyes on causing problems for the Springboks’ 37-year-old ‘rookie’ hooker – though the Springboks' props may have something to say about that plan...
FIXTURE: South Africa v Tonga
GROUND: Stade de Marseille (67,847)
KICK-OFF: 21:00 local time (GMT+2)
The first match between the two nations, at Newlands in 1997, ended 74-10 in South Africa’s favour. The second match, at Rugby World Cup 2007, was nearly very different.
South Africa fans will recall Rugby World Cup 2007 in France, with fondness. They beat England twice – in the pool phase and again in the final – as they won the Webb Ellis Cup for a second time.
But a week after celebrating their 36-0 Pool A win over the English, a much-changed Springboks side – but one that still featured John Smit, Victor Matfield, Juan Smith, Bryan Habana, Frans Steyn and Percy Montgomery on the bench – nearly slipped on a banana-skin match against Tonga in Lens.
The final score records the result as a 30-25 win for South Africa. It doesn’t mention that Tonga were within a caught crossfield kick of scoring what could have been the match-winning try when a young Wayne Barnes signalled the end of the match.
KEY TALKING POINT
The return of Pollard, who comes into this Rugby World Cup match off the back of 30 minutes gametime with his English club side Leicester in a Premiership Cup match a couple of weeks ago. While he’s likely to have a positive impact on South Africa’s success off the kicking tee, how much will it affect a back line that has been very well-orchestrated by Manie Libbok? And how much of a gamble is that lack of action?
Deon Fourie v Paula Ngauamo. Fourie – South Africa’s oldest test debutant when he came on as a replacement against Wales in Bloemfontein in July 2022, a couple of months shy of his 36th birthday – will make his first test start at hooker in Marseille, at the age of 37, against the experienced Tongan.
South Africa are the only team to have conceded fewer than 20 points in this year’s Rugby World Cup, having shipped just 16 from three matches, 13 of which came against Ireland. Tonga, with 104 points from two matches, are one of four sides to have conceded more than 100 in the competition. The others are Chile, Namibia and, another Pool B side, Romania.
Luke Pearce (England). One of the strictest enforcers of the offside rule at Rugby World Cup, Pearce has blown for nine offside offences in his two matches at the tournament to date. Only Karl Dickson (10) has penalised more.
SOUTH AFRICA Willie Le Roux; Grant Williams, Canan Moodie, Andre Esterhuizen, Makazole Mapimpi; Handré Pollard, Cobus Reinach; Ox Nche, Deon Fourie, Vincent Koch; Eben Etzebeth, Marvin Orie; Siya Kolisi (captain), Duane Vermeulen, Jasper Wiese
Replacements: Marco van Staden, Steven Kitshoff, Trevor Nyakane, Franco Mostert, Kwagga Smith, Jaden Hendrikse, Manie Libbok, Jesse Kriel
TONGA Salesi Piutau; Fine Inisi, Malakai Fekitoa, Pita Ahki, Anzelo Tuitavuki; William Havili, Augustine Pulu; Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, Paula Ngauamo, Ben Tameifuna (captain); Halaleva Fifita, Sam Lousi; Tanginoa Halaifonua, Sione Talitui, Semisi Paea
Replacements: Sam Moli, Tau Koloamatangi, Sosefo Apikotoa, Adam Coleman, Sione Vailanu, Sonatane Takulua, Patrick Pellegrini, Afusipa Taumoepeau