The start of the 2023 Rugby World Cup did not really hold its share of surprises. All winners when they entered the competition – except New Zealand, beaten by France – the favorite nations entered their competition well, and were able to take advantage of their second day to make numerous changes in their starting XV. Thus, after the difficult victory of the Blues against Uruguay (27-12), and the All Blacks' recital against Namibia (71-3), it was South Africa's turn to make a small squad review against Romania, Sunday September 17, at the Stade de Bordeaux. Tactical modifications which did not prevent the reigning world champions from winning comfortably, 76 to 0.
Compared to the success against Scotland (18-3), only Damian Willemse retained his starting place, the Springbok still moving from full-back to that of fly-half. Despite this rotation, Jacques Nienaber expected a solid performance from his players. “We also have to show our respect to the players we have selected for this match, so we are not talking about anything other than Romania,” explained the South African coach during the pre-match, confident that the knee injury and the withdrawal for the rest of the competition of their star hooker, Malcolm Marx, was “a big blow”, but will give “an opportunity for other players to assert themselves”.
Perched at the top of the stands at the Bordeaux stadium on Saturday, Jacques Nienaber quickly understood that his players were not disconcerted by their teammate's injury. And that they were determined to follow the example of New Zealand against Namibia rather than that of the Blues against Uruguay. From the twelfth minute, Damian Willemse went to score his team's fourth try with a hook then an acceleration, at the same time already offering the offensive bonus point to the Springboks.
Like the opener, the South African backs largely dominated their Romanian counterparts in speed and technique, while the forwards systematically advanced with each impact. As a result, the match quickly turned into a correction, and the Springboks were able to repeat their offensive ranges by scoring no less than twelve tries. Special mention to scrum half Cobus Reinach, having finished victoriously three times in the Stejarii goal – the oaks, the nickname of the Romanian team – from the start of the match (3rd, 9th and 24th minutes). Winger Makazole Mapimpi imitated him by also scoring a hat-trick (7th, 64th and 68th).
Now for Ireland
If the score is not heavier and did not come close to the historic victory of the Australians over Namibia in 2003 (142 to 0), this is due to the reaction of the Romanians, courageous although limited against the world champions In title. But also to the vagaries of the weather. A few minutes after kick-off, the sky suddenly darkened over Bordeaux before intense rain fell on the stadium during the first period. The ball became slippery and caused the South African stars to commit some unusual hand errors.
Despite the conditions becoming difficult, the magnitude of the score allowed coach Jacques Nienaber to carry out some full-scale tests. He therefore decided to place four scrum halves on the scoresheet, starting the match on the wing for Grant Williams and giving Faf de Klerk the role of joker at fly half. After the injury to Malcolm Marx, Nienaber also chose to place the usual third-row Deon Fourie on the bench as… a replacement hooker. A profitable choice, since the former Grenoble man also tried his hand a few seconds after coming into play (42nd).
The Romanian pitfall passed as expected without a hitch, the Springboks will now turn to a confrontation on a completely different level. Saturday September 23, they will face Ireland, the first nation in the world rankings, at the Stade de France (Saint-Denis), in the shock of this group stage. Despite the performance of the usual replacements in Bordeaux, there is no doubt that winger Cheslin Kolbe, third row and captain Siya Kolisi and second row Eben Etzebeth should all be back as starters to face the Clover XV.