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Dynamic trio in Springbok line-up

South Africa’s fly-half Handre Pollard kicks the ball for a penalty conversion during the France 2023 Rugby World Cup semi-final match between England and South Africa at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, on the outskirts of Paris, on October 21, 2023. PHOTO: AFP

PRESLES, FRANCE (AFP) – South Africa have named half-backs Handre Pollard and Faf de Klerk as well as hooker Bongi Mbonambi in their starting XV for the Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand on Saturday.

Mbonambi makes the run-on team after being cleared by World Rugby on Thursday of having used a racial slur against England’s Tom Curry in last weekend’s semi-final.

“Having considered all the available evidence, including match footage, audio and evidence from both teams, the governing body has determined that there is insufficient evidence at this time to proceed with charges,” World Rugby said in a statement.

“Therefore, the matter is deemed closed unless additional evidence comes to light.”

South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber did not hold back when it came to selection as the Boks bid for a record fourth World Cup title, axing Cobus Reinach and Manie Libbok, who was hooked after 30 minutes of the semi-final, for De Klerk and Pollard.

South Africa’s scrum-half Faf de Klerk holds the ball during a training session in Domont, North of Paris, on October 25, 2023, ahead of the France 2023 Rugby World Cup final match against New Zealand. PHOTO: AFP

The latter pair will start together for the 25th time, moving past Joost van der Westhuizen and Henry Honiball (24 Tests) to make them the most experienced halfbacks in Springbok history.

They are in a starting team which features 10 players who started in the World Cup final four years ago and is the most experienced in Springbok history with a combined total of 987 caps, eclipsing the record set the previous week against England of 895 Test caps.

“This is an experienced team with several players who played in the last Rugby World Cup final and who know exactly what to expect at Stade de France on Saturday and what it will take to retain the title,” said Nienaber.

“The players who will be playing in their first World Cup final have also proven their worth as warriors throughout this campaign and they are all ready for this massive occasion.”

Nienaber also opted for a replacements bench boasting seven forwards and just one back in veteran Willie Le Roux.

Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel start in midfield, with a back three of Cheslin Kolbe, Kurt-Lee Arendse and Damian Willemse.

Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe and Mbonambi will pack down in the front row, with locks Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert behind them, and the loose trio of Bok skipper Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen completing the forward pack.

South Africa’s hooker Bongi Mbonambi (C) raises his arms and sinks to his knees as he celebrates South Africa’s victory at the end of the France 2023 Rugby World Cup semi-final match between England and South Africa at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, on the outskirts of Paris, on October 21, 2023. PHOTO: AFP

The replacements’ bench features forwards Deon Fourie (hooker/flanker), Ox Nche and Trevor Nyakane (props), Jean Kleyn and RG Snyman (locks), Kwagga Smith and Jasper Wiese (loose forwards), and Le Roux.

“We’ve gone from a five-three bench split to a seven-one split to give us the best chance of being successful,” Nienaber said.

“We have plans in place to mitigate for injuries in the backline, but we’re excited about our plan and we embrace the risk.”

Nienaber confirmed that winger Kolbe would step up into a halfback role should it be needed.

South Africa (15-1)

Damian Willemse; Kurt-Lee Arendse, Jesse Kriel, Damian De Allende, Cheslin Kolbe; Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (capt); Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth; Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff

Replacements: Deon Fourie, Ox Nche, Trevor Nyakane, Jean Kleyn, RG Snyman, Kwagga Smith, Jasper Wiese, Willie le Roux

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