Habana the only significant injury concern for Boks

2009-09-08 00:00

THE Springboks are in a race against time to get wing Bryan Habana, their best attacker, tackler and chaser, back for Saturday’s Tri-Nations decider against the All Blacks in Hamilton.

Habana left the field with a hamstring injury shortly before half-time in Brisbane, and coach Peter de Villiers has delayed naming his team until tomorrow in the hope that the wing will be fit to face the New Zealanders.

Team doctor Craig Roberts said yesterday that Habana was his only concern ahead of the weekend.

“Bryan is our only significant injury problem and, although he’s done quite well in terms of his recovery over the last two days, we’ll only be able to make a call on his fitness later in the week.”

Habana, who prevented two certain Wallaby tries with stunning first-half tackles, initially left the field on Saturday for a blood injury.

“His hamstring became tighter and tighter during the first half and when he came off to go to the blood bin, we were able to assess him properly. We felt there was a risk of him suffering a major injury if he went back on. For a sprinter he needs to be able to run flat out and if he can’t do that, then it becomes quite an easy decision,” said Roberts.

Centre Adrian Jacobs came on as the wing’s replacement and De Villiers conceded that Habana’s pace had been badly missed.

“If you don’t have effective chasers, then you allow the opposition to run back into your territory and the Wallabies weren’t scared to dictate terms after we kicked to them. We tried to simulate what we did good in our previous games, but we didn’t have the same personnel.”

He said that he now appreciated how effective Habana and JP Pietersen (back in Durban with a hamstring strain) are in chasing kicks, contesting in the air and tackling and admitted that he may have been wrong in sending on Jacobs instead of Frans Steyn as a replacement.

“It might be outside the framework of reference for the guys we had there on Saturday and we need to get the right type of guy in that position so we can get it right,” De Villiers said.

“The players are obviously disappointed with the defeat, but that positive vibe is back and there’s a new energy flowing through the team. I know the players will stand up and prepare to the best of their ability this week. The last match was a setback and it calls for character in the team,” De Villiers said.

Forward coach Gary Gold said that the Wallabies’ superiority at the breakdown had been key to the Bok defeat.

“They definitely targeted that area, they swamped the breakdown with numbers and we didn’t clean out effectively enough to stop them coming in all over the place,” he said, while De Villiers said that the Boks’ kicking game had suffered because “70% of our kicks were defensive kicks, which then just allowed the Wallabies to play with the ball.”

De Villiers said he had studied the tapes and had been impressed by the Wallabies.

“If you lose on the day to a team that plays like that, it is still painful, but you can take it. If we could play like that, I would take it with a smile.”

The All Blacks are already in Hamilton and their concerns are centred on an injury-hit midfield. Conrad Smith and Luke McAlister were injured in their last Test against the Wallabies and they join Isaia Toeava, Tamati Ellison and Richard Kahui on the sidelines.

The result is that coach Graham Henry is considering moving the world’s best flyhalf Dan Carter to centre to cover the hole. But De Villiers is sceptical.

“I would be surprised if they shift Dan Carter to 12 and they would never do it if they didn’t have injuries. But it shows what an injury crisis they have if people are digging up the possibility,” he said.

The All Blacks, who are nine points behind the Boks, need to win one of their remaining two Tri-Nations games with a bonus point to have a chance of taking the title. But Henry told reporters he is not looking too far ahead.

“We have a slight sniff, but at the end of the day it doesn’t change much really. We’ve just got to play well, hopefully win and hopefully we can add a bit of icing to it as the night goes on. If we don’t play well and don’t win, we’re out of the contest, so that’s the number one priority.”

He again praised the quality of the Springbok lineout and said that it was obvious that the South Africans were far stronger in that area than they were in the scrum.

Coverage of the Boks’ final Tri-Nations international is from 9 am on Saturday.

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