Fatigue, fitness fears for Boks

2010-08-28 00:00

THE mind will be willing, but tired flesh could prove the Springboks’ undoing in the Tri-Nations Test against the Wallabies at Loftus Versfeld this evening.

The Australians have found South Africa to be unbeatable at altitude, last wining on the highveld in 1963, but they will have been encouraged by what happened at Soweto a week ago when the Boks had the beating of the All Blacks, but then wilted in the final quarter.

Whether it is battle fatigue or poor conditioning is uncertain, but the Springboks are not as fit as they should be and the All Blacks punished them last week.

Instead of finishing strongly — as they traditionally do when playing overseas teams at altitude — the tiring Boks piled error upon error in the closing minutes, missing tackles, kicking away possession and arriving in dribs and drabs at the breakdown. They leaked two tries in the final three minutes, and the excellent work and the energy of the first hour, along with John Smit’s 100th Test celebrations, were swept away by the dark wave of defeat.

The Wallabies’ astute coach Robbie Deans would have taken copious notes. He has a lively backline, crammed with game-breakers, and the creative Quade Cooper is back pulling the strings at flyhalf. Their plan will be to take the ball through the phases, stretch the defence, force the Boks to chase the ball and then exploit the gaps in the final quarter.

The Boks will hope to match the intensity and fierce commitment of Soweto, using their physical pack to keep the Wallabies on the backfoot. It is again critical that they make their first-time tackles and hold their defensive lines.

Little was made of it after the Soweto defeat, but time and again the Boks defending the outside channels waited on their heels for the All Black attackers to cross the advantage line and run at them instead of cutting down their space and time. Unless the Boks play in the faces of the Wallabies, and stay there for 80 minutes, they will be cut to pieces tonight.

What is also a concern is that the Boks have three ball-carrying loose forwards (Schalk Burger, Juan Smith and the under-achieving Pierre Spies) but are without a specialist fetcher, a player to match Wallaby flank David Pocock at the tackle, they will again struggle at the breakdown.

Today it is Springbok lock Victor Matfield’s turn to celebrate his 100th Test and yesterday he echoed Smit’s words of last week when he said victory was crucial.

“It’s great to play my 100th Test at Loftus, but it is far more important that we get a win.”

“The Tri-Nations is over for us but we are still playing for the Mandela Cup (between South Africa and Australia).

The lineout specialist said he is in excellent physical shape.

“What Australia will get is a Springbok team desperate to win. We want to go out there and express ourselves, playing the type of rugby we enjoy.”

A convincing Bok performance is overdue. They know that at altitude, and in front of 90 000 supporters, they should have brought some relief to their unhappy supporters by ending the All Blacks’ unbeaten run last week.

This evening they will have to somehow reproduce that Soweto passion against streetwise opponents, but this time add the winning touches.

They will not abandon the aerial assault and, indeed, the inclusion of fullback Frans Steyn suggests they will place even more emphasis on the kicking game in an attempt to win the battle for territory and pressure the Wallabies into mistakes.

But can they succeed where they failed last week and sustain the effort for 80 minutes?

Matfield joked yesterday that he hoped to become the first Springbok to celebrate victory in his 100th Test (after both Percy Montgomery and John Smit tasted defeat in their milestone games).

But no one in South Africa will be laughing if the world champion Springboks crash to their fifth successive defeat tonight.

TEAMS

Springboks: 15 Frans Steyn, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.

Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Danie Rossouw, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Butch James, 22 Juan de Jongh.

Wallabies: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 James O’Connor, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Richard Brown, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom (c), 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 2 Saia Faainga, 1 Benn Robinson.

Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 James Slipper, 18 Ben McCalman, 19 Scott Higginbotham, 20 Luke Burgess, 21 Berrick Barnes, 22 Anthony Faainga.

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

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