A tweak here and there as Boks meet heavier conditions against NZ

2009-09-09 00:00

THE Springbok team to face the All Blacks in Saturday’s Tri-Nations international in Hamilton will be named today, and coach Peter de Villiers should be considering at least two changes.

All Black coach Graham Henry yesterday surprised by making two chan­ges to his starting line-up and pairing Stephen Donald, a flyhalf, and Ma’a Nonu in a new All Black midfield.

D e Villiers and his co-selectors, convenor Peter Jooste and Ian McIntosh, have selected consistently and well this year, keeping changes in an experienced squad to a minimum, but this week they faced a couple of difficult choices.

The fitness of Bryan Habana, nursing a hamstring strain, will be key to the backline selections. Habana was replaced by rusty centre Adi Jacobs during Saturday’s Test in Brisbane and De Villiers has admitted he erred. If Habana fails to overcome his injury, De Villiers may well replace him with the physical, big-kicking Frans Steyn on the wing.

Should Habana be fit for Saturday, De Villiers could opt for Steyn at fullback in place of Ruan Pienaar but this, of course, could depend on the Springboks’ tactics. De Villiers, wanting more attacking options on the hard Austra­lian grounds, and looking to a future without the Paris-bound Steyn, moved Pienaar to fullback for the internationals in Perth and Brisbane.

But, in the heavier New Zealand conditions, he may well return to the effective kick-and-chase tactic which was successful for the home Tri-Nations Tests in which case Steyn, with his big boot and effective chasing, should play.

De Villiers may also consider bringing back Schalk Burger for Heinrich Brussow on the flank. Brussow has been one of the finds of the season and his success as a fetcher has added a new dimension to the Springboks’ forward play. But Burger, with his exceptionally high work-rate and massive physical commitment, will provide the Bok pack with an intensity which was missing in Brisbane. Either way, it is a difficult choice.

In New Zealand, there had been speculation that All Black Dan Carter, considered the world’s best flyhalf, would move to inside centre following injuries to both Luke McAlister and Conrad Smith. But specialist flyhalf Donald was yesterday switched to centre though it is clear he and Carter could swap positions during the Test.

Henry clearly wants to keep the Boks guessing.

“We’ll just have to see how the plot works out on the day. There’s no point giving you the plot now because it will be boring on Saturday,” Henry joked. “Hopefully it will come together well on the day.”

Donald was surprised at his move and could not immediately recall when he last started at inside centre.

“I don’t think in my wildest dreams I would have partnered Ma’a Nonu in the midfield for the All Blacks. But I am and I am rapt about it,” Donald said.

The selection provides the All Blacks with two play-makers and strong kickers at flyhalf and inside centre, but the new combination will be tested by the Springboks strong midfield of Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie.

The shortage of midfield backs has forced Henry to choose an unfit Isaia Toeava on the All Blacks bench, while there is no specialist cover at lock with two loose forwards, Adam Thomson and Rodney So’oialo, among the replacements.

The All Blacks will be aiming to win with a bonus point (five points) to revive their slim Tri-Nations hopes, while a single bonus point for the Boks could seal the title.

Nigel Owens of Wales will referee the Test which kicks off at 9.35 am (SA time).

New Zealand team (15-1)

Mils Muliaina, Joe Rokocoko, Ma’a Nonu, Stephen Donald, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Dan Carter, Jimmy Cowan, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Isaac Ross, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock.

Reserves: Aled de Malmanche, John Afoa, Adam Thomson, Rodney So’oialo, Brendon Leonard, Isaia Toeava, Cory Jane.

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