Rugby World Cup: South Africa inspired by daily struggles of millions back home as England braced for aerial onslaught

Captain Siya Kolisi says the daily struggles endured by millions of South Africans is fuelling the Springboks’ quest to retain the Rugby World Cup ahead of a semi-final meeting with England.

Jacques Nienaber’s side are red-hot favourites to progress from a rematch of the 2019 final to set up a winner-takes-all showdown with either New Zealand or Argentina.

Flanker Kolisi, his country’s first black captain, overcame childhood poverty to lift the Webb Ellis Cup four years ago in Japan. The 32-year-old referenced homelessness and unemployment during an impassioned answer to a question about motivation and believes failing to give 100 per cent would be “cheating” his compatriots.

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“I don’t think that will ever change, who we play for, who we represent,” he said. “When you start playing for others and start doing things for other people it’s not easy to give up, it’s much harder. When you think of how many people would give anything to be where we are and the majority of the people in our country are unemployed, some don’t have homes. For me, giving up and not giving everything would be cheating not just myself and the team but the rest of the people at home.

Siya Kolisi will be looking to win the World Cup once again with South Africa.Siya Kolisi will be looking to win the World Cup once again with South Africa.
Siya Kolisi will be looking to win the World Cup once again with South Africa.

“The harder we play, the more we do well, the more we are able to open opportunities for others so that also drives us. I believe we are a purpose-driven team, we’re not a trophy-driven team; of course the trophies help you to get more people with you. Sometimes you can look at the struggles of what you’re going through and feel sorry for yourself. But we use that pain and those struggles and we carry them with us to drive us through the battles. It helps us to keep on going when it’s tough.”

South Africa have named an unchanged matchday squad to face England. Fly-half Handre Pollard, who kicked 22 points in his side’s 32-12 defeat of England in the 2019 final, remains among the replacements, with Manie Libbok continuing in the number 10 role. Fifteen of the 23 played in that match in Yokohama when the Springboks lifted the Webb Ellis Cup for the third time. Head coach Jacques Nienaber’s decision to go with continuity means there is once again a five-three split of forwards and backs on his bench.

For England, Freddie Steward returns at full-back in one of three changes made by Steve Borthwick to face the Bols. Steward was dropped for the first time in his 29-cap Test career for the last-eight victory over Fiji, losing the number 15 jersey to the more attack-minded Marcus Smith. But Smith finished the Marseille showdown with a fat lip and bandaged head following his defensive heroics – becoming an injury doubt – and has now been left out of the 23 altogether due to concussion. The remaining two changes are seen in the front five where Joe Marler starts ahead of Ellis Genge and George Martin comes in for Ollie Chessum – both unexpected adjustments.

Captain Owen Farrell is aware of the aerial onslaught coming in Paris but is backing Steward to thrive. “The thing about Freddie is everybody knows how good he is in the air, everybody knows what a fantastic player he is in general,” Farrell said. “But it’s the want to do it, the want to be in those battles, the want to go and get the ball back for his team, the want to defuse what’s coming our way. He is one of the best in the world at it.”

South Africa: Willemse; Arendse, Kriel, De Allende, Kolbe; Libbok, Reinach; Kitshoff, Mbonambi, Malherbe, Etzebeth, Mostert, Kolisi (c), Du Toit, Vermeulen. Replacements: Fourie, Nche, Koch, Snyman, Smith, De Klerk, Pollard, Le Roux.

England: Steward; May, Marchant, Tuilagi, Daly, Farrell, Mitchell; Marler, George, Cole, Itoje, Martin, Lawes, Curry, Earl. Replacements: Dan, Genge, Sinckler, Chessum, Vunipola, Care, Ford, Lawrence.