Boks in trouble

2010-11-06 00:00

THE Springboks, diluted by injury, under-prepared and fielding players out of position, are in danger of a shellacking when they face the fired-up Irish in the opening Test of their grand slam tour in Dublin tonight.

There was a hefty sigh of relief in the South African camp late yesterday when experienced centre Jean de Villiers was passed fit to play, but the chaos of the past week still suggests that the Springboks, who have not won in Dublin since 2000, are in for another Irish mauling.

The South Africans, at the fag-end of a long season, cobbled together for a couple of days of disrupted preparation, hit by injuries and with a mishmash of a backline, are decidedly vulnerable.

The Irish, in vivid contrast, are fresh at the start of their season and will be bristling with intent, aggression and talent on what is a massive occasion, the opening of their new R4 billion Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

They will, like the Sharks a week ago, be ready to take chunks out of their opponents. They have a backline crowded with five British Lions and led by the world-class Brian O’Driscoll, and perfectly equipped to pick holes in the Bok defences.

Certainly Bok coach Peter de Villiers, in his selection, has left himself wide open. He has selected discarded fullback Zane Kirchner as an outside centre and has omitted specialist Adi Jacobs following his extended break from the game. This, of course, is an admission that Jacobs should not have been selected to tour in the first place.

But, wait, there is more. While Jean de Villiers, who damaged a groin in the Currie Cup final in Durban a week ago, has been cleared to play, he has not practised all week and he now joins rookie centre Kirchner in opposing veterans O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy in midfield. Still, this does mean that the 20-year-old Sharks flyhalf Pat Lambie can ease his way into Test rugby off the bench rather than making his Test debut out of position at inside centre where the Irish traffic will be at its heaviest.

Lambie’s inclusion on the bench has resulted in Lwazi Mvovo dropping off, while flank Willem Alberts (calf injury) failed his test yesterday and his Sharks team-mate Keegan Daniel was named among the replacements.

The Springboks’ only chance of overcoming their many problems tonight is if their experienced pack can squeeze the life out of the Irish forwards, control the flow of the game and provide some protection for their fragile backline.

The selection of Ruan Pienaar rather than Francois Hougaard at scrumhalf suggests that the Boks will again concentrate on a tactical kicking game on what is expected to be a damp Dublin evening

But the hosts, under former Springbok forward coach Gert Smal, have a strong set piece and all week they have been telling journalists that they are ready to take on and beat the “bullyboy Boks”. And, if the Irish win possession on the front foot, the Springbok backs are in for a long and painful night.

Even the referee is unlikely to offer the Boks any relief and they face another confusing battle with northern hemisphere interpretations as Welshman Nigel Owens takes charge of the Test.

The prospects are indeed gloomy, but it would be marvellous to be wrong. Certainly a Springbok victory following all the disruptions, after a long, disappointing year and on a night of Irish celebration, would be a remarkable achievement.

But it is difficult to remain optimistic in a year when just about everything De Villiers has touched has turned to manure.

The Boks are hoping to emulate Avril Malan’s 1960 Springboks in winning the grand slam of Tests against Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England over the next month.

The indications are that they will stumble at the first hurdle tonight, and it will be open season on DPeter de Villiers … again.

TEAMS

South Africa: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 Zane Kirchner, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira

Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Keegan Daniel, 20 Francois Hougaard, 21 Adi Jacobs, 22 Pat Lambie

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O’Driscoll (captain), 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 David Wallace, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Mick O’Driscoll, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan, 3 Tony Buckley, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy

Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Tom Court, 18 Donncha Ryan, 19 Denis Leamy, 20 Peter Stringer, 21 Ronan O’Gara, 22 Keith Earls

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).

 

ON TV

Kickoff: 7.30 pm — live on M-Net and SuperSport 1

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