Boks weaken as Matfield pulls out of Wales tour

2007-11-14 00:00

RUGBY folk in the Welsh valleys will be delighted that the world champion Springboks are growing weaker by the day ahead of their Cardiff Test on November 24.

Victor Matfield, recognised as the leading line-out forward in world rugby, yesterday withdrew from the Springbok tour party, leaving a massive hole in the second-row.

Matfield is the 12th member of the World Cup-winning squad to miss the tour. South African Rugby announced yesterday that he had been released due to personal commitments and would be replaced by uncapped Free State Cheetahs lock Barend Pieterse.

Matfield is a close friend of Bulls coach Heyneke Meyer who is strongly tipped to take over the Boks from Jake White. Meyer's appointment as Bok coach could cause Matfield, who has an escape clause to his contract with Toulon, to ditch his initial plans to play club rugby in France. He has withdrawn from the Bok tour to spend time with his family and reconsider his future plans.

SA Rugby also announced that uncapped Western Province hooker Tiaan Liebenberg would replace captain John Smit in the match against the Barbarians at Twickenham on December 1. Smit has not been released by his French club, Clermont Auvergne, for the festival match.

The Boks had their first run in Johannesburg yesterday and, according to observers, appeared remarkably sharp after their break.

From the shadow Bok line-up it appears there will be five changes and a positional switch.

CJ van der Linde moved from tighthead to loosehead in place of retired Os du Randt, Jannie du Plessis was at tighthead, Johann Muller took over at lock in the absence of Matfield, Ryan Kankowski was at number eight in the squad for Danie Rossouw; and the versatile Ruan Pienaar was in Montgomery's places at fullback. Flyhalf Andre Pretorius ran at flyhalf in place of Butch James.

White would not comment on Matfield's withdrawal except to say: “One gets used to injuries and withdrawals”.

Sharks number eight Ryan Kankowski told News24 that his selection to the Bok squad “was a huge surprise”.

“It's an unbelievable feeling. I have learnt a lot in Super 14 matches from guys such as Bob Skinstad and AJ Venter. As a 22-year-old, I have a lot of things to work on.”

It is reported from Cardiff that controversial Welsh centre Gavin Henson could be back to face the Boks. He has been named in a training squad for the Test.

Acting head coach Nigel Davies has included Henson in a 31-man training squad which will be whittled down to 24 after this weekend's Heineken Cup matches.

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