Bok bruisers could sit out

2011-09-07 00:00

THE Springboks are likely to start without their two most physical, confrontational forwards, Bakkies Botha and Bismarck du Plessis, in Sunday’s bruising Rugby World Cup opener against Wales in Wellington.

Springbok coach Peter de Villiers yesterday confirmed that veteran lock Botha, who has not practised this week because of injury, is a doubtful starter.

De Villiers has already said he regards captain John Smit “as the best hooker in the world”, which suggests that the competitive Bismarck du Plessis will be on the bench on Sunday.

De Villiers said yesterday that Botha was his only fitness concern and that Pat Lambie and Frans Steyn, who both travelled to New Zealand with injury, would be available for selection.

Botha is undergoing ongoing rehabilitation for an Achilles’ tendon injury and sat out training at Rugby League Park for the second day yesterday.

De Villiers said a decision on Botha’s fitness will be made shortly before the team’s announcement on Friday.

But, with the Springboks hoping to play in all seven games (four in their pool and three in the play-offs) in successfully defending their RWC title over the next two months, it is unlikely they will risk Botha in the opening game.

Danie Rossouw, another veteran of the 2007 World Cup triumph in France, is a ready-made replacement for Botha in the second-row with former Sharks captain and lock Johann Muller then the obvious selection on the bench.

Steyn and Lambie both practised with the Springboks yesterday without showing any discomfort.

Steyn strained a hamstring in the Tri-Nations Test against the Wallabies in Durban last month, while Lambie suffered an AC joint strain in the Test against the All Blacks in Port Elizabeth a week later.

With flyhalf Morné Steyn again back in favour, Frans Steyn and Lambie are in contention for the fullback berth. The burly Steyn has the advantage of being able to boot the ball vast distances while playmaker Lambie, who could be used at flyhalf on attack, would add variety to the Springboks’ backplay.

But, with the Boks’ committed to a percentage game based on tactical kicking, Frans Steyn would appear to be De Villiers’s first choice fullback with Lambie possibly playing off the bench.

Vice-captain Victor Matfield and wing Bryan Habana are nursing niggles and trained on their own yesterday, but are expected to be fully fit for Sunday. In the absence of Matfield and Botha, the Boks scrummed with Muller and Rossouw in the second row.

“At the moment 29 players are fine. The only doubt is Bakkies Botha, who has Achilles tendonosis, which is a chronic problem and is being managed at the moment,” media manager Andy Colquhoun said yesterday.

“Everyone else is rehabbing and is fine for selection.”

Meanwhile, former Sharks and South African captain Gary Teichmann says the Boks could benefit from being in one of the most competitive pools at the World Cup.

In their preview of the seven likeliest sides to win RWC 2011, Britain’s Guardian newspaper chose Teichmann, the Boks’ first Tri-Nations winning skipper in 1998, to assess his own country’s chances.

Teichmann said there are certain factors in the Boks’ favour.

“First, they’re going in as underdogs. Second, they’re in a tough pool so they’ll have to consistently play their best team — that can either hurt by causing too many injuries, or make them a hardened team used to pressure when the knockout games come.

“They will play in a way that works for them; they’re not going to play open or expansive rugby, so that shouldn’t tire them out too much.

“They’ll certainly be in the semi-finals, from there it’s hit and miss.”

Sunday’s game against Wales kicks off at 10.30 am (SA time) and English referee Wayne Barnes will be in charge.

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