Div upbeat for Oz clash

2011-10-03 00:00

DEFENDING world champions South Africa will play Tri-Nations title-holders Australia in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals in Wellington on Sunday and they will do so without burly centre Frans Steyn.

Steyn is on his way home after suffering a shoulder injury against Samoa, and Blue Bulls fullback Zane Kirchner is surprisingly being flown to Wellington to replace him in the squad.

The Springboks, winners of Pool D, face the Wallabies, second in Pool C, in the third quarter-final scheduled for 7 am (SA time) on Sunday.

Ireland thumped Italy 36-6 in Dunedin yesterday to top Pool C and advance to a quarter-final clash against Wales in Wellington on Saturday.

New Zealand, devastated by losing Dan Carter, arguably the most valuable player in world rugby to injury, play Argentina in the late Sunday kick-off at Eden Park in Auckland.

England, unbeaten in Pool B, meet struggling France on Saturday at Eden Park.

The winner of the South African-Australia play-off advances to a semi-final, almost certain to face New Zealand, while the other semi-final will be contested by northern hemisphere teams.

Bok coach Peter de Villiers saw the positives in playing the Wallabies.

“They won’t be as physical as Samoa, but they will try to be. It is just Samoa who can be as physical as that, because it’s part of their nature. We also understand Australia and we know what they do. We’ve been playing them for years, and they’re not likely to change anything this coming week. For them it will be easier and for us it will be easier.”

De Villiers also believes the Bok scrum and their improved defence will bother the Australians.

“It will be a challenge for them on the scrums, especially as our scrum is exceptionally good at the moment. We use it as a good platform to play from and a guy like Pierre [Spies] gets enough time to go off the back of it.

“Our lineouts aren’t bad either,” De Villiers added.

The decision to call up Kirchner took even the player himself by surprise. The Bulls fullback has been steady rather than outstanding in recent weeks and Bok coach Peter de Villiers appears to already have adequate cover in New Zealand.

Not only was Pat Lambie in impressive form as fullback against Samoa on Friday, but De Villiers also has Western Province fullback/wing Gio Aplon in the squad. And Odwa Ndunagne was included in the initial squad — ahead of specialist wing Lwazi Mvovo — because he can play both wing and fullback.

The reason for Kirchner’s call-up could be that De Villiers is concerned about injuries to both wings, Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen, against Samoa, but the Bok coach seemed confident the pair will be ready for Sunday’s quarters.

De Villiers has options in midfield, though Frans Steyn’s prodigious boot will be missed. The experienced Jean de Villiers, over his injury, is the obvious replacement at inside centre and he would be back alongside his old partner Jaque Fourie in midfield. De Villiers also has another specialist centre in Juan de Jongh in the squad while Butch James could play in the midfield if the Bok coach wants to bolster the defence.

Steyn hurt his left shoulder in the final moments of the Springboks’ 13-5 victory over Samoa in Auckland on Friday and will return to South Africa for surgery.

“I am bitterly disappointed,” said Steyn. “I don’t know how the injury happened. It was at a ruck when I was cleaning someone out late in the game. I was enjoying our campaign and the tournament, and to have it ended like this is very disappointing.

“I’d just like to wish the squad all the best …”

Steyn scored tries in each of the Springboks’ first three matches in the tournament as well as adding two long-range penalties for a haul of 21 points in his second Rugby World Cup.

Four years ago he became the youngest player to win a Rugby World Cup winners’ medal as a 20-year-old in South Africa’s victory in France.

Kirchner has won 14 Springboks caps, the last of them coming against England in November. He was a member of the Springboks’ Rugby World Cup preliminary squad, but missed out on initial selection for the Tri-Nations tournament because of injury. He has since returned to fitness and played for the Bulls against the Pumas on Friday night.

“The call was unexpected. I was out cleaning the patio when the phone rang. I was surprised and I don’t think it will sink in until I am over there in New Zealand, but I am looking forward to it,” said Kirchner

Quarter-final line-up (SA times):

Saturday:

Ireland v Wales, Wellington 7 am.

England v France, Auckland 9.30 am.

Sunday:

South Africa v Australia, Wellington 7 am.

New Zealand v Argentina, Auckland 9.30 am.

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