Boks delay naming team, but Habana certain to start

2008-11-18 00:00

THE Springbok team announcement was delayed yesterday, but two important questions were answered — Bryan Habana will play and John Smit will be wearing the No. 2 jersey.

Assistant coach Dick Muir confirmed at a press conference that they are hoping Habana’s form will come right on Saturday.

This might have raised a few eyebrows from critics who were expecting Habana to be dropped after a horrendous run of form saw him slip from last year’s mantle as IRB World Player of the Year. Asked if Twickenham could expect to see Habana in action, Muir said: “He will start”.

Habana was replaced during the win over Scotland, with management claiming this was because of bruising to his shoulder and not his nightmare performance, including several dropped passes. Peter de Villiers said the Habana situation needs to be managed — not an approach many top coaches would disagree with.

While it is clear Habana is suffering a confidence crisis, there is much sense in the old saying that form is temporary and class is permanent, and the Boks will be hoping he uses Twickenham to underline this.

The confirmation that Habana is playing leaves a big question mark over Jaque Fourie. The World Cup-winning centre made a big impact coming on as Habana’s replacement at Murrayfield and he made it clear he should not be ignored for Saturday’s expected bruising battle.

There was a lobby for him to continue on the wing, but if he is not doing that, could it mean he returns in the No. 13 jersey he wore with such distinction before his injury? It would be a smart move, for though Adrian Jacobs has played well, the Lions player was the incumbent and could well be the best outside centre in the world on his day.

Ironically, if Fourie does return it will be at the venue where he was the subject of controversy in 2004, when he was included in place of Breyton Paulse — and then summarily dropped again after a political outcry.

The potential for such outcries may well be part of the reason the Boks delayed naming their team. If Jannie du Plessis’s greater experience is deemed necessary to the starting scrum, it will raise questions over the decision to select Brian Mujati ahead of the Sharks tighthead initially.

Officially, Mujati is one of two players currently with injury doubts, the other being Fourie du Preez. According to media spokesman Anthony McKaiser, Du Preez ran yesterday, but he did not train with the team.

The massive impact that Du Preez could have on the game should makes it a wise move for the Boks to delay their team announcement. It also allows them to steal a march on England in that Du Preez’s presence or absence could make a significant difference to the Boks approach the game.

Much has been made of South Africa’s ‘overwillingness’ to keep ball in hand last week, but it is a fair bet that this may not have happened had Du Preez been present to take some of the pressure off Ruan Pienaar.

“The injury situation has introduced a bit of uncertainty and we thought we would delay the announcement until we were absolutely sure all the players will be ready,” said Muir.

Muir appeared to confirm that Smit will play at hooker, and not tighthead.

“It was our plan to convert John into a tighthead and he is a man who loves a challenge. But right now circumstances preclude him from playing in that position,” Muir said.

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