Rugby World Cup: South Africa name unchanged XV for final

Van Heerden replaces Skinstad on bench

This may have been a World Cup of shocks, but South Africa's team for Saturday's World Cup final did not contain one surprise. With the exception of the injured centre Jean de Villiers, the Springboks' head coach Jake White could have picked it at the start of the year. Listening to him talk, he probably did.

The one area of concern for White is tight-head prop. When South Africa played England in the group stage last month, they fielded Brendon Botha there. He was regarded as a better scrummager than CJ van der Linde, who had appeared in the opening match against Samoa, but his tournament was ended prematurely by a knee injury.

Van der Linde, who struggled against Argentina last Sunday, will have the task of stopping Andrew Sheridan from disrupting the South Africa scrum. It is the one area where the Springboks concede England may think they have an advantage, but the flanker Schalk Burger warned the holders that it would take more than a few strong scrums to prevent the trophy from being snatched away from them.

"It is going to be a huge forward contest," said Burger, who missed last month's romp against England because of suspension. "The scrum is only one factor. There will be a huge battle in the lineout and the tackle area will be key. England did well at the breakdown against Australia and France, and my job will be to ensure they do not stop us getting quick ball. How the breakdown goes really depends on the strength of your set-pieces. Our lineout has functioned really well this tournament and we are aware of the importance England place on the scrum. A World Cup is at stake. No one is going to be holding back. I just wish I could get on to the field now."

South Africa will finish the World Cup having played just one team from the Tri-Nations and Six Nations combined, England. While White envisaged meeting Wales and France in the knock-out rounds, rather than Fiji and Argentina, he insists that the Springboks did not have an armchair ride to the final. "Fiji did not get into the last eight by accident," he said. "Our players said afterwards it was one of the toughest matches they had had in years, including the Tri-Nations, while Argentina have one of the best forward packs in the business and they had beaten France at home.

"We have been planning for this day for four years and we were ready to take on anyone. I thought we would face New Zealand in the final, but knock-out rugby is unpredictable. What we have is an experienced group of players who have been together for a long time, settled combinations and a captain [John Smit] who does not represent just one section of South African society. He went to school in an Afrikaan area and plays for an English speaking province. He can have breakfast with Gurthro Steenkamp, lunch with Bakkies Botha and go to a movie with Enrico Januarie. The players can rest assured that he treats everyone the same and that his decisions are based on what is right for everyone. His importance to what we have achieved since I took over in 2003 is huge."

A major factor in England's victories over Australia and France was the way they used their advantage at the breakdown to put pressure on the opposition scrum-halves, both of whom had inexperienced, 21-year-old partners whose decision-making melted in the heat of battle. Getting to the South African scrum-half, Fourie du Preez, the man of the match when the two sides met last month, will be considerably more difficult, as will be besting Burger and Juan Smith in the tackle area.

"It is going to be a nice weekend," said Botha. "There are some hard collisions to look forward to. We know exactly what to expect from England and we have to ensure that we are the ones playing on the front foot, using our strength and power. It will be a case of two big packs confronting each other. People say that we have the best lineout in the world but Victor Matfield [the South Africa lock] and I never pat ourselves on the back. We always push each other harder and harder, constantly striving to get to a higher level. We aim to surprise."


Paul Rees in Paris

The GuardianTramp

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