PARIS – The 2023 World Cup reaches a climax this weekend with the final two matches of the seven-week long tournament at Stade de France.
The final promises to be a classic between the free-wheeling All Blacks and South African team that has been able to claw their way across the finish line in their two knockout games.
The winner of the final will become the first team to four World Cup titles.
A night earlier England will face Argentina in a game to decide which team finishes in third place. The teams will be reported here as they’re announced.
3rd/4th place playoff: Argentina vs England, Stade de France, 6am AEDT Saturday
Tom Curry, who is at the centre of a racism row involving South Africa’s Bongi Mbonambi has been picked to start his 50th Test.
Owen Farrell will captain a starting XV with eight changes to the side that was beaten by the Springboks in the semi.
A new-look front row sees vice-captain Ellis Genge return to the starting line-up to pack down with Theo Dan at hooker and Will Stuart at tighthead.
The second-row partnership sees Maro Itoje link up with Ollie Chessum. In the backrow, Sam Underhill is named on the openside flank to make his first appearance of the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
Ben Youngs, England men’s most capped player of all time, starts his first game of the tournament at scrumhalf to win his 127th cap. An unchanged midfield sees Manu Tuilagi and Joe Marchant combine again. Steve Borthwick has named a back three full of excitement with Marcus Smith returning from concussion at fullback and Henry Arundell and Freddie Steward on the wings.
Argentina head coach Michael Cheika made three changes to his starting XV from last week’s loss to New Zealand.
Pedro Rubiolo replaces Tomas Lavanini in the second-row, Tomás Cubelli (pictured) comes in for Gonzalo Bertranou at scrum-half and Jeronimo de la Fuente takes over from Santiago Chocobares at inside-centre.
As always with this fixture desire and disappointment play a role. Curry has been the subject of personal abuse after his on-field reaction to Ben O’Keeffe last week where he said he’d been called a vile insult.
This is set to be the last hurrah for Argentina’s Australian coach Michael Cheika at the helm of the Pumas.
What they’re saying
Richard Wigglesworth, England assistant: “There are all sorts of different stories to grab onto this week. We need to make sure we treat every case individually in terms of what is going to motivate them. But as a team we are really motivated to show our progress, to finish in the right way which is a win and a feeling we deserve.
“[Argentina] will come out all guns blazing. They’ve had slightly longer to recover. We’re expecting a huge challenge, we know this game is a way to finish in the right way for both teams.”
Mateo Carreras, Argentina winger: “I trust 100 per cent in the 33 players that are here in France. We are going to prepare like a final. We are not satisfied with being here. We want a medal and we are going to fight for that.”
Argentina (1-15): Thomas Gallo, Julian Montoya (c), Francisco Gómez Kodela, Guido Petti, Pedro Rubiolo, Juan Martin Gonzalez, Marcos Kremer, Facundo Isa, Tomas Cubelli, Santiago Carreras, Mateo Carreras, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Lucio Cinti, Emiliano Boffelli, Juan Cruz Mallia.
Replacements: Agustín Creevy, Joel Sclavi, Eduardo Bello, Matias Alemanno, Rodrigo Bruni, Lautaro Bazan Velez, Nicolas Sanchez, Matías Moroni.
England (1-15): Ellis Genge, Theo Dan, Will Stuart, Maro Itoje, Ollie Chessum, Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Ben Earl, Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell (c), Henry Arundell, Manu Tuilagi, Joe Marchant, Freddie Steward, Marcus Smith.
Replacements: Jamie George, Bevan Rodd, Dan Cole, David Ribbans, Lewis Ludlam, Alex Mitchell, George Ford, Ollie Lawrence.
World Cup final: New Zealand vs South Africa, Stade de France, 6am AEDT Sunday
The most-capped player in All Blacks history, Sam Whitelock (152), will become the first men’s player in history to make three World Cup deciders. He is also one of six World Cup winners in the Kiwis’ match day 23.
The only change in the starting XV sees Brodie Retallick resume his quarter-final combination with Scott Barrett while Whitelock will be used from the bench.
There is one additional personnel change to the reserves bench with 52-Test tighthead prop Nepo Laulala replacing Fletcher Newell.
“Once again we have felt the support of an entire nation behind us,” said coach Ian Foster. “We will definitely carry that with us when we go to Stade de France on Saturday.”
South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber restored half-backs Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard to the starting team with Cobus Reinach and Manie Libbok dropped from the 23 in a 7-1 bench split.
It will be the 25th time Pollard and De Klerk they have started alongside each other, and the eighth against the All Blacks. Libbok was dragged 31 minutes into the semifinal and replaced by Pollard who scored the winning penalty in the 78th minute. Willie le Roux is the only backline player on the Boks’ bench.
Jean Kleyn, Jasper Wiese and Trevor Nyakane, who replaces Vincent Koch, have come in.
There are 10 players in the starting XV who also started in the 2019 World Cup final – Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Duane Vermeulen, Faf de Klerk, Handre Pollard, Damian de Allende and Cheslin Kolbe. Steven Kitshoff and Franco Mostert, who were on the bench in 2019, start this time; Willie Le Roux, who started, is the only back on the bench this time. RG Snyman is again on the bench.
“It could have been six-two, five-three. It is about the 23. You select a team that you think will get you the result,” Nienaber said.
“It is not about individual selection. It is for South Africa. The players take it like that. It is not about a person or ego.”
He said Cheslin Kolbe will cover halfback should De Klerk need replacing.
The Boks have had to prepare under the shadow of a World Rugby investigation into Mbonambi, but the investigation was dropped on Thursday just before the squad was announced.
The South African scrum has been a feature of their advancement and the bomb squad has New Zealand wary. In a show of strength, South Africa have opted for a 7-1 forwards-backs bench split.
It’s a final match as coach for Nienaber, off to Leinster, while Rassie Erasmus could also depart.
New Zealand have a settled side with a selection decision to be made over their hookers. It will be the end of the road for many of the All Blacks at international level – including Aaron Smith, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick and Dane Coles, while the future is unknown for Beauden Barrett, Richie Mounga and Ardie Savea. Add to that it’s the final Test for Ian Foster as coach so emotions will be high however it pans out.
What they’re saying
Jason Ryan, NZ assistant coach: “This contest is going to be a title fight. “It’s going to be huge and accuracy and momentum shifts are a big part of it. Momentum shifts will swing and they can swing really quickly, the scoreboard can change quickly. Both teams can score and get momentum so being accurate around the park is quite an important one.”
Felix Jones, South Africa assistant: “[With the introduction of Joe (Schmidt) and Jason Ryan, there have been many good developments in [New Zealand’s] game. Not just one area, if I had to highlight one I would say the ruck, it has been excellent. They do appear to be a very complete team. There has been development in their kicking game. The way they put you under pressure, not only with their passing game but their ability to also to use the ball off of their foot.”
New Zealand (1-15): Ethan de Groot, Codie Taylor, Tyrel Lomax, Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett, Shannon Frizell, Sam Cane (c), Ardie Savea, Aaron Smith, Richie Mo’unga, Mark Telea, Jordie Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Will Jordan, Beauden Barrett.
Replacements: Samisoni Taukei’aho, Tamaiti Williams, Nepo Laulala, Sam Whitelock, Dalton Papali’i, Finlay Christie, Damian McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown.
South Africa (1-15): Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert, Siya Kolisi (c), Pieter-Steph Du Toit, Duane Vermeulen, Faf de Klerk, Handre Pollard, Cheslin Kolbe, Damian de Allende, Jesse Kriel, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Damian Willemse.
Replacements: Deon Fourie, Ox Nche, Trevor Nyakane, Jean Kleyn, RG Snyman, Kwagga Smith, Jasper Wiese, Willie Le Roux.