By Greg Stutchbury
TOKYO (Reuters) – South Africa winger Cheslin Kolbe has returned to the starting side for the Rugby World Cup final against England in Yokohama on Saturday after he recovered from an ankle injury.
Kolbe missed the Springboks pool match against Canada with an ankle problem and had to leave the field in the latter stages of the quarter-final against Japan before sitting out their 19-16 semi-final win over Wales.
“Cheslin is fit and he is back in the team,” Erasmus told a news conference on Thursday. “We were a bit nervous when we lost him for the semi-final, but the nice thing about the squad … is that we have a lot of depth.
“Cheslin is world class and he has shown that whenever he has played for us.”
Kolbe is the only change to South Africa’s squad with Erasmus sticking to a massive pack and having six forwards on the bench to bring on as replacements in the second half.
“It’s definitely been frustrating, especially coming through the pool stages and getting injured against Italy probably in the last seconds of the game,” Kolbe said.
“The ankle has really healed up nicely, I’m just grateful to get another opportunity to wear the green and gold jersey and to play in the final.”
Captain Siya Kolisi will earn his 50th test cap in the final, where he will compete against England’s twin opensides Tom Curry and Sam Underhill.
“There were a lot of emotional things going around about him being the first black captain,” Erasmus said of appointing Kolisi to the role last year.
“It caught Siya off guard and caught me off guard as well.
“He has always been a great captain and great player. But his game suffered a little bit and then he got injured.
“(But) he is ready for the final. It will be his 50th test match and it will be a wonderful occasion.”
Replacement scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies, who on Wednesday was named as a contender for World Rugby’s Breakthrough Player of the Year award, and the versatile Frans Steyn are the only two replacement backs.
Steyn is the only player in the squad to have appeared in a World Cup final before, having been part of the side that beat England in the 2007 final.
“I’m just enjoying the week,” Steyn said when asked to compare the two experiences.
“The last time it wasn’t so serious for me. I was a little bit young and I just thought there would be another opportunity.
“Now it’s a little but more serious because I know there won’t be another opportunity. It doesn’t come along every day to play in a final and we have to make it count.”
South Africa: 15-Willie Le Roux, 14-Cheslin Kolbe, 13-Lukhanyo Am, 12-Damian de Allende, 11-Makazole Mapimpi, 10-Handre Pollard, 9-Faf de Klerk, 8-Duane Vermeulen, 7-Pieter-Steph Du Toit, 6-Siya Kolisi (captain), 5-Lood de Jager, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Frans Malherbe, 2-Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1-Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16-Malcolm Marx, 17-Steven Kitshoff, 18-Vincent Koch, 19-RG Snyman, 20-Franco Mostert, 21-Francois Louw, 22-Herschel Jantjies, 23-Frans Steyn.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)