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Pollard to start for SA in World Cup against Tonga

Flyhalf Handre Pollard, back from injury and called up to the South Africa World Cup squad last week, will start for the Springboks in their final pool game against Tonga in Marseille on Sunday.

It will be Pollard’s first Bok appearance since playing against Australia in Adelaide before injury forced him out of the subsequent 16 Tests.

Four years ago, Pollard scored 25 points across the quarter-final against Japan and the semi-final against Wales before scoring 22 as South Africa beat England 32-12 in the final of the World Cup.

The 29-year-old was initially ruled out of this tournament, but returned to competitive action a week ago with his club Leicester before being called up as a replacement for injured hooker Malcolm Marx.

He did not feature in Saturday’s 13-8 defeat by Ireland but the failure of South Africa’s two goalkickers Manie Libbok and scrum-half Faf de Klerk in that match had increased the calls for Pollard’s return to the team.

In spite of his exciting performances with ball in hand, concerns have been raised about Libbok’s goalkicking.

He missed three penalties against Scotland in the first match and also failed with a conversion and a penalty against Ireland on Saturday.

Libbok is named on the bench as coach Jacques Nienaber makes 12 changes to the starting team fthat went down to Ireland.

Forwards Siya Kolisi, who will make his 50th appearance as captain, Eben Etzebeth and Jasper Wiese are retained for the must-win clash that will be crucial in determining which two teams from Pool B advance to the quarter-finals, and who they will play in the top-eight playoffs.

“This is a strong and physical team, which is exactly what we need against a side like Tonga that plays with passion and force,” said Nienaber.

“Each one of us understands the importance of this match with an eye on qualifying for the quarter-final, so accurate execution, physicality and doing our basics right will be vital to get the desired result.”

Pollard partners Cobus Reinach at halfback, while Andre Esterhuizen and Canan Moodie pair up in midfield. Willie le Roux starts at full-back with Makazole Mapimpi and Grant Williams named on the wings.

Up front, Deon Fourie will earn his first start in the Springbok jersey at hooker in a front row alongside props Ox Nche and Vincent Koch, while Etzebeth and Marvin Orie pack down in the second row.

The only change Nienaber made among the loose forwards was at flanker, where regular No 8 Duane Vermeulen will wear the No 7 jersey.

Marco Van Staden is named as replacement hooker, with the bench also featuring prop replacements Steven Kitshoff and Trevor Nyakane, and the versatile Franco Mostert and Kwagga Smith. The three backline players on the bench are scrum-half Jaden Hendrikse, centre Jesse Kriel and Libbok.

Nienaber added that Tonga “will enter with the mindset that they have nothing to lose after going down in their opening two matches of the tournament, so they won’t hold back”.

“They had impressive moments in their matches against Scotland and Ireland, so this will require a full 80-minute effort. The emphasis for us will be on doing what we need to do to progress out of the pool stages and to bounce back from last week and build momentum.

“We are still in the World Cup, and we know we have the players and skills to defend our title. We now need to transfer all the hard work at training into producing a top-quality performance.”

South Africa (15-1)

Willie le Roux; Grant Williams, Canan Moodie, Andre Esterhuizen, Makazole Mapimpi; Handre Pollard, Cobus Reinach; Jasper Wiese, Duane Vermeulen, Siya Kolisi (capt); Marvin Orie, Eben Etzebeth; Vincent Koch, Deon Fourie, Ox Nche

Replacements: Marco van Staden, Steven Kitshoff, Trevor Nyakane, Franco Mostert, Kwagga Smith, Jaden Hendrikse, Jesse Kriel, Manie Libbok

Coach: Jacques Nienaber (RSA)