The last of the quarter-finals. One semi-final place up for grabs. The hosts - second in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini - against the defending champions and the side they overtook during the tournament. It doesn’t get much bigger than this.
South Africa’s head coach Jacques Nienaber has named 13 of the 15 players who started against Ireland in round three. The only two changes are at scrum-half, where Cobus Reinach gets the nod ahead of Faf de Klerk, and at eight, with Duane Vermeulen in place of Jasper Wiese.
With 880 caps in the starting XV, it’s South Africa’s second-most experienced test line-up ever. Most of those caps are in the run-on pack, who have 623 caps between them - more than any other front eight in Springbok history. And there’s plenty more on the bench, as well…
Jacques Nienaber has named a 5-3 bench split for the second consecutive match, and third time at RWC 2023, while 14 of those involved here played against France in Marseille last November - including Manie Libbok, who made his debut back then.
France coach Fabien Galthié has made just one change to his starting XV that defeated Italy 60-7 in the last game, with captain Antoine Dupont returning 24 days after fracturing his jaw against Namibia in Marseille.
Galthié has named a 6-2 bench split for the second time this tournament, though Sekou Macalou has been employed on the wing in the past, while 12 of the starting XV that defeated South Africa in Marseille in 2022 have been named again this time.
FIXTURE: France v South Africa
GROUND: Stade de France (80,023)
KICK-OFF: 21:00 local time (GMT+2)
The Springboks have the upper hand in 110 years of rugby history between the two nations. They have won 27 of the 45 matches played, including seven of the last eight, while France have claimed 12 wins, with six draws down the years.
The last one, a Rugby World Cup test run in Marseille, in November 2022. Pieter-Steph du Toit and Antoine Dupont were both sent off in a hard-fought encounter in the Mediterranean port city, as Les Bleus came from behind to win 30-26 thanks to a late try from prop Sipili Falatea and a last-gasp penalty by Thomas Ramos.
KEY TALKING POINT
Nienaber’s decision to start Libbok at 10 ahead of Handre Pollard in a match that’s likely to be tight, from the start. Libbok has converted 55 percent of his kicks at goal at RWC 2023, but has marshalled the Springboks’ backs brilliantly. Pollard, who averages 15.7 points per game in RWC knock-out games, will be expected to bring consistency at the business end of the match.
Anthony Jelonch v Siya Kolisi. Two back-rows who suffered serious injuries a matter of months ago, and who were far from guaranteed to make the tournament even as the squad deadline approached, line up on opposite flanks for what could be the toughest match of Rugby World Cup to date. That they’re even on the pitch here is testament to their dedication, determination, and willingness to put in some seriously hard rehab work behind the scenes.
France have lost just one of their last 28 matches on home soil – against Scotland in March 2021 – and have won their last 18 games on French soil. Antoine Dupont has not lost a match as captain, and Maxime Lucu has been on the winning side in every test he has played.
Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand). O’Keeffe has officiated both teams already at this Rugby World Cup. He was in charge of South Africa’s 13-8 loss to Ireland, and France’s harder-than-expected win over Uruguay. He also had the whistle when Les Bleus beat England 53-10 at Twickenham in the 2023 Six Nations.
FRANCE Thomas Ramos; Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Jonathan Danty, Louis Bielle-Biarrey; Matthieu Jalibert, Antoine Dupont (captain); Cyril Baille, Peato Mauvaka, Uini Atonio; Cameron Woki, Thibaud Flament; Anthony Jelonch, Charles Ollivon, Gregory Alldritt
Replacements: Pierre Bourgarit, Reda Wardi, Dorian Aldegheri, Romain Taofifenua, Francois Cros, Sekou Macalou, Maxime Lucu, Yoram Moefana
SOUTH AFRICA Damian Willemse; Kurt-Lee Arendse, Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende, Cheslin Kolbe; Manie Libbok, Cobus Reinach; Steven Kitshoff, Mbongeni Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe; Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert; Siya Kolisi (captain), Pieter-Steph Du Toit, Duane Vermeulen
Replacements: Deon Fourie, Ox Nche, Vincent Koch, RG Snyman, Kwagga Smith, Faf de Klerk, Handre Pollard, Willie Le Roux