Bok forwards set up victory over Kiwis

2009-07-27 00:00

AN ankle injury suffered by Ruan Pienaar shortly before half-time could save the national selectors a tricky decision tomorrow when they name their Springbok team to face the All Blacks in the second Tri-Nations international at King’s Park on Saturday evening.

While the Bok coaching staff refuse to comment on injuries until the Monday following Test matches, a source close to the Bok squad said Pienaar had aggravated the ankle injury which sidelined him in the Super 14.

Pienaar was replaced by Morne Steyn at half-time in the Bloemfontein Test, won 28-19 by the Springboks.

Pienaar’s injury is apparently not serious but the selectors may opt to stay with Morne Steyn, his replacement on Saturday, because of his superior goal-kicking record. Pienaar impressed in his general play in the first half but missed four kicks at goal while Steyn landed two critical penalties from close to the halfway line.

The knee injury to centre Jean de Villiers is reportedly not serious but the Boks’ medical staff will only release details of the bumps and bruises later today.

The Springboks, playing to their strengths in the first half on Saturday, looked in excellent form but their loss of focus and intensity midway through the second half — when the All Blacks worked their way back into the contest — is worrying.

Bok captain John Smit said the win, which took his team back to the number one ranking in world rugby, was critical to the team’s chances of winning the Tri-Nations.

“We were a lot more accurate in this Test than we were in the series against the Lions and we put a lot of pressure on the All Blacks and maintained that pressure,” said Smit.

“It’s always up to the forwards to set the platform, and we did that. The intensity in those rucks and mauls was unbelievable and it was a special place to be. It was just a great Test against the All Blacks.”

All Blacks coach Graham Henry was generous in defeat and said the Boks “were the better team and deserved their win.”

“There are no excuses about altitude, about travel, about two Tests in a week. This is a very good Springbok side and they deserve to be number one in the world. We needed more composure and discipline and we should have created more opportunities. You just can’t afford to make that many errors when you have the ball.”

His captain Richie McCaw agreed and said his players had been forced into mistakes by the Boks, in handling and in discipline.

While Henry was looking within for the reasons for the loss, Smit offered the excuse.

”It’s difficult to turn around from one week to the other as the All Blacks have done and play at altitude,” the Bok captain said.

Both Smit and the All Blacks praised the efforts of young Bok flank Heinrich Brussow who was the man-of-the-match.

All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen highlighted the impact Brussow had made at the breakdown.

”He is a phenomenal find at Test level,” said Smit. “He is making a big difference for us and also making it very difficult for the opposition,” Smit added.

Victor Matfield made a mess of the New Zealand lineout while Bok hooker Bismarck du Plessis, lock Bakkies Botha, Smit, Beast Mtawarira, an improved Juan Smith and the athletic Pierre Spies all played aggressive roles in a muscular first-half display which had the All Blacks on the retreat.

The All Blacks will have been lifted by their second-half revival when they matched the Boks’ physicality while they have always felt that their best chance of winning on their brief South African tour would come in at sea level in Durban this Saturday and after they have had nearly two weeks in the country.

What is also curious, considering the lessons that should have been learnt during the British lions series, was that the hugely influential scrumhalf Fourie du Preez and hooker Bismarck du Plessis were replaced in the closing minutes. The contest might well have been won by the Boks but the bonus point was still in the balance and needless substitutions simply to reward players on the bench should never take place at Test level.

A nasty story did emerge in the weekend press claiming that someone had spied Bok wing Bryan Habana breaking team protocol in returning to his Bloemfontein hotel at 1.00am on Saturday morning when he should have been safely tucked up in bed. With the Test only being played 16 hours later, it hardly seems a major offence though an internal disciplinary hearing will apparently take place.

What is certain is that Habana’s fierce commitment on defence – he was never given the chance to attack – cannot be in question.

See also page 18.

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