Former Northampton Saints team-mates Cobus Reinach and Alex Mitchell will start against each other in the England v South Africa semi-final

Can the apprentice take down his old master with the eyes of the rugby world watching? Alex Mitchell spent three years with Cobus Reinach at Northampton Saints where the South African ran the show while the youngster learnt his trade from the bench. Now the two will start opposite each other in a Rugby World Cup semi-final. 

Nobody expected Mitchell to be here after missing out on Steve Borthwick’s initial 33-man squad but an untimely ankle injury to Jack van Poortvliet opened the door of opportunity for the Saints livewire to not only make it out to France, but leapfrog veteran duo Danny Care and Ben Youngs in the scrum-half pecking order.

Read more: England v South Africa predictions: Who will prevail in 2019 World Cup final rematch?

Since Reinach swapped Franklin’s Gardens for Montpellier in 2020, Mitchell has flourished into arguably the Premiership’s best nine at the centre of one of the league’s most attractive sides and top try-scorers.

Reinach himself has won the selection battle to start over Faf de Klerk, another man with great Premiership experience after his time in England with Sale Sharks. So it is a starting individual match-up that has had to overcome plenty of hurdles to come to fruition.

After starting in South Africa’s 29-28 quarter-final win over home favourites France last weekend, Rugby World asked Reinach if he would relish the chance to go head-to-head with his old sparring partner Mitchell.

Related: Ben Earl: It’s sink or swim v South Africa, let’s hope I swim!

He said: “I’ll play anyone I don’t mind. I know him from Saints, he’s a nippy little player. I am very happy for him to be here. He’s playing unbelievable rugby.”

Undoubtedly as the senior pro, Reinach will have passed on many tricks of the trade to his younger colleague at Northampton but the 33-year-old is not concerned that any of that advice might come back to bite him when they take to the Stade de France on opposing sides on Saturday night.

He added: “We are all in the game to grow as players, what you do on the field is your decisions, he’s making good ones at the moment. If we helped each other here and there, at the end of the day it’s how you handle the pressure.”

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