South Africa have selected Handre Pollard to start at five-eighth in the Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand while packing their bench with forwards in a high-risk 7-1 split.
Pollard was promoted from the reserves along with halfback Faf de Klerk — the same halves combination that started in the Springboks’ victory in the final four years ago.
But New Zealand come packed with experience too, making only one change from the 44-6 rout of Argentina in the semi-finals for Saturday’s showdown at the Stade de France.
They’ve brought in Brodie Retallick at lock in place of Sam Whitelock, who drops to the bench from where he’ll hope to emerge to become the only player to win the World Cup three times.
The All Blacks went with their usual 5-3 split on the bench but the big surprise from the Springboks’ management pair of Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber was the bench split.
Lock Jean Kleyn and No.8 Jasper Wiese have been added for an extended ‘Bomb Squad’ of seven reserve forwards to face the resurgent All Blacks in the first World Cup final between the two fierce rivals since 1995.
South Africa kept four of the five forwards that were on the bench for the semifinal, with prop Trevor Nyakane in for the injured Vincent Koch in a forced change.
The Boks added Kleyn and Wiese in an indication they will lean heavily on their forwards. Willie le Roux is the only back in the reserves. That could leave South Africa exposed if they have backline injuries.
Retallick, Whitelock, fullback Beauden Barrett, halfback Aaron Smith and flanker Sam Cane, now the captain, all played in the 2015 final triumph for the All Blacks – but 2015 hooker Dane Coles has missed out on the matchday 23.
Winger Will Jordan has a tournament-leading eight tries and needs only one more to move past greats Jonah Lomu, Julian Savea and Bryan Habana. He can also equal Lomu as the only player to score tries in five straight matches at a single World Cup.
Whoever wins between the No.1-ranked Springboks and No. 2 All Blacks will clinch a record fourth World Cup title.
“We’ve gone from a 5-3 bench split to a 7-1 split to give us the best chance of being successful,” Springboks coach Nienaber said.
“We know we are in for a colossal battle. Every point and inch will count in this match.”
South Africa experimented with a then-unprecedented 7-1 split in a warm-up game against New Zealand ahead of the Rugby World Cup and won by a record 35-7 against a 14-man All Blacks.
South Africa also used the tactic against Ireland in the pool stage at the World Cup, when Ireland won 13-6.
Hooker Bongi Mbonambi was named in the starting line-up and cleared to play after World Rugby said there was insufficient evidence to support an allegation by England’s Tom Curry that the South African forward directed a discriminatory remark at him.