Boks primed for Bloem-ing win

2009-07-25 00:00

IF timing is indeed everything in sport, then the Springboks, in the right place at the right time, should have the better of the All Blacks in this evening’s Tri-Nations international in Bloemfontein.

The Springboks, in recently squeezing out the British Lions 2-1, will be better for winning a tight, physical series against well-drilled opponents. The Boks waited a long 12 years for the Lions to return, but ironically were still underdone going into that much-anticipated series. A number of players, including Frans Steyn and Ruan Pienaar, were desperately short of game time after extended injury breaks and they should be in far better shape, mentally and physically, today.

And, as captain John Smit has pointed out, the competitive three-Test series provided ideal preparation for the Tri-Nations while the couple of weeks break since the Lions’ departure has left them fresh and eager.

While the Boks have benefited from a mixture of an uncompromising series followed by a refreshing break, the New Zealanders have been less fortunate. They took time to wipe the sleep from their eyes in the Tri-Nations opener against the Wallabies last week and they appeared rusty. They did grow stronger the longer they played, but that was largely when their replacements were making a significant impact and they are back on the bench today.

They then had to trek around the world to play at altitude against a Springbok team who have been in Bloemfontein ... waiting for them.

The All Blacks are delighted to have their influential captain Richie McCaw back on the flank, but there is a suspicion that he is not fully match fit after returning from injury.

Both teams have selected ambitiously, indicating a desire to adopt a fast-moving, ball-in-hand approach. The Springboks’ most significant choice was at flyhalf. In days of yore, the South Africans would have opted for the most structured of games, playing around their superior lineout, with a Morne Steyn at flyhalf to kick for position and land the penalties and drops to win a tight Test match.

“Conditions will certainly be conducive to playing an expansive game,” Smit said yesterday, “but it will depend on opportunity. You’ve got to earn the right to go wide. It depends on how well you do the job up front.”

The All Blacks have opted for quality attackers (wing Joe Rokocoko and scrumhalf Brendon Leonard) in making two changes to their side and they obviously hope to run hard at the Boks, counter-attacking from loose kicks and turnovers.

It promises to be a lively, robust and physical Test with both teams geared to attack but reward going to the team that finishes more clinically. It is also a Test the experienced Springboks, if they can put their patchy form against the British Lions behind them, would expect to win.

The timing just seems right.

TEAMS

South Africa: 15-Francois Steyn, 14-JP Pietersen, 13-Jaque Fourie, 12-Jean de Villiers, 11-Bryan Habana, 10-Ruan Pienaar, 9-Fourie du Preez, 8-Pierre Spies, 7-Juan Smith, 6-Heinrich Brussow, 5-Victor Matfield, 4-Bakkies Botha, 3-John Smit, 2-Bismarck du Plessis, 1-Tendai Mtawarira. Reserves: 16-Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17-Jannie du Plessis, 18-Danie Rossouw, 19-Ryan Kankowski, 20-Enrico Januarie, 21-Morne Steyn, 22-Wynand Olivier.

New Zealand: 15-Mils Muliaina, 14-Joe Rokocoko, 13-Conrad Smith, 12-Ma’a Nonu, 11-Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10-Stephen Donald, 9-Brendon Leonard, 8-Rodney So’oialo, 7-Richie McCaw, 6-Jerome Kaino, 5-Isaac Ross, 4-Brad Thorn, 3-Neemia Tialata, 2-Andrew Hore, 1-Tony Woodcock. Reserves: 16-Keven Mealamu, 17-Owen Franks, 18-Jason Eaton, 19-Kieran Read, 20-Piri Weepu, 21-Luke McAlister, 22-Cory Jane.

Kick-off: 5 pm. Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)

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