Bok team confusion

2007-11-28 00:00

The Springbok management sowed some confusion yesterday when they unexpectedly announced the postponement of the team announcement for Saturday’s final match of the year against the Barbarians at Twickenham.

Manager Zola Yeye explained that the absence of coach Jake White, who was still in Woking participating in the international rugby strategic conference, was responsible for the sudden change of plans.

However, the management must have known on Monday that White would not be around, and yet that was when they sent out the communication scheduling the announcement.

There was a lot of speculation yesterday at the reason for the sudden delay, including a perceived rift over team selection between White and Yeye. The latter was quoted in the media back home yesterday saying that the players who did not participate in the World Cup should be given a chance to play, and those who were at the training session at a school ground on Tuesday suggested that this was the direction the Boks appeared to be heading.

However, White said at the start of the week that the Boks would go into the match with as few changes as possible to the team that started against Wales in the final Test match of 2007 at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff last weekend.

Late yesterday it was confirmed that we can expect just two changes, with Bakkies Botha and John Smit being the enforced absences.

Talking of Botha, the more informed opinion has it that the delay in the announcement might be rooted in his non-availability through an ankle injury. The injury could see him out of rugby for eight weeks.

The interest in the game has already sustained a few blows due to the ongoing uncertainty about some of the Barbarians, and South Africa losing their star lock would detract further from the contest.

So it may well be that the Boks are holding back the announcement to the last possible moment to soften the blow. Certainly it was obvious from an early stage of the week that Botha, who again did not train yesterday, would not be playing.

In the absence of Smit, Johann Muller is expected to lead the side, and in the absence of White and management members it was the Sharks lock who faced the media.

“It has been difficult being without Jake this week, we are so used to having him around,” said Muller.

“Gert (Smal) and Allister (Coetzee) have done a good job in his absence but we are used to having Jake present to call the shots at practice and it feels strange when he is not here. We are looking forward to him coming back from Woking for the last practices of the week.”

Presumably the Boks will also welcome some clarity on the team, with White being the man who has to make the final call.

“We are reasonably sure of what the team will look like, but it has not been finalised and we are waiting for Jake to come back and put his stamp on it,” said Muller.

The lock said that the players were still in good physical condition but that psychologically the long season was starting to take its toll.

“It has been a long season, starting with the Super 14, going through the home Tests and the Tri-Nations, then the buildup to the World Cup and the World Cup itself.

“The good thing though about this game is that it is one of those rare occasions where we, as professional rugby players, will get a chance to play just for the fun of it.

“Winning will always be important, but there is also a fun element to a Barbarians fixture and we want to enter into the spirit so that the crowd can be entertained and can be part of a special occasion.”

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