Fans hope for fit Boks

2011-08-20 00:00

COACH Peter de Villiers and the Springboks will be under fierce pressure in Port Elizabeth this evening when they meet the All Blacks in their Tri-Nations international to complete their unimpressive build-up to the Rugby World Cup.

The Springboks have lost three Tri-Nations Tests on the bounce. None of the defeats was unexpected as they toured and lost in Australia and New Zealand with their B squad and then fed a rusty, unfit and underdone first-choice line-up to the Wallabies in Durban last week.

Veteran lock Victor Matfield, who has taken over from John Smit as captain today, is well aware that the Springbok supporters are becoming fidgety and that the Boks have to produce a win today.

“There is no room for any more excuses,” Matfield said yesterday. “We just have to make sure we win. We have to be hard on ourselves .

“This is an important game for us. We have to make our supporters believe in us again before we go to the World Cup and we need momentum.”

De Villiers has indirectly added to the pressure by drawing a parallel between his Bok B team tour of Australia and New Zealand, and the media fuss it caused, and the All Blacks selection that resulted in eight of their regulars being left at home for this Test.

Of course, there is a difference. The All Blacks have all but won the Tri-Nations already and they have the luxury of resting key squad members. They also have not left 22 first-choice players at home as De Villiers did. And, of course, South Africans, in their present mood, are grateful for small mercies and would happily accept a win over any team in a black jersey.

Defeat at home and against a team missing world-class players, including Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, today would certainly leave De Villiers and his players in a pickle just days before the RWC squad is named.

All Black coach Graham Henry is delighting in the Boks’ obvious discomfort and yesterday turned up the heat.

“I think it’s a huge Test for the Boks. This is the one they need to win or the pressure on them is just going to increase,” Henry said. “I think Peter [de Villiers] and his players know that.”

But Matfield said the team have prepared and planned well for the Test and he is looking forward to a tough Test.

“An All Black side is always dangerous. I think they will hit us with their usual high-tempo game but we have our plans and we must just concentrate on implementing them.”

But, of course, questions still remain and the most worrying is that the Springboks, unable to last the pace in Durban, will not have suddenly become a fit team in a week.

The return of Morné Steyn to flyhalf will certainly result in a more structured game, one that will suit the Boks rather than the high tempo contest they were involved in against the Wallabies.

And, adding to the pressure of the occasion, is that a number of Springboks, among them Morné Steyn and flank Willem Alberts, after his eight-week break, are playing for their World Cup places.

The All Blacks, fit, flourishing, organised and winning, are where the Boks had hoped to be on the eve of the World Cup. Henry has made 11 changes to his starting line-up but will still field a team crowded with familiar names, a mix of experienced All Blacks and emerging talent.

The gifted fullback Israel Dagg is back from injury, Hosea Gear is a constant threat on the wing and the powerful presence of Sonny Bill Williams will send a flutter through the Springbok midfield. Colin Slade takes over from Carter at flyhalf and the pack contains a host of tried and tested players in Liam Messam, Adam Thomson, Jerome Kaino, Ali Williams, captain Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock.

The Boks, with 10 wins in 35 Tests, have a poor Tri-Nations record against the All Blacks and they are vulnerable. But this is one Test they really have to win to take pressure off the management and ensure that the build-up to the World Cup takes place in a mood of relative calm and optimism.

TEAMS

South Africa: 15 Pat Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.

Replacements: 16 John Smit, Tendai Mtawarira, CJ van der Linde, Danie Rossouw, Ashley Johnson, Francois Hougaard, Butch James.

New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Isaia Toeava, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Adam Thomson, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu (captain), 1 Tony Woodcock.

Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Jarrad Hoeata, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Piri Weepu, 22 Cory Jane

Referee: George Clancy (Ireland).

Kick-off: 5 pm

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