Div opts for continuity

2011-09-15 00:00

COACH Peter de Villiers is sticking to his guns and has again named captain John Smit as his hooker for Saturday’s Rugby World Cup outing against Fiji in Wellington.

De Villiers has been under ongoing pressure to start with the in-form Bismarck du Plessis at hooker, but announcing his team late last night (SA time), he has opted for continuity in retaining Smit as his first-choice hooker and captain.

The Springbok coach, in charge of an experienced if creaking squad, has a growing injury list with Bryan Habana (knee), Jean de Villiers (rib cartilage) and Victor Matfield (hamstring), who all started against Wales on Sunday, ruled out of the Fijian international.

Butch James (hip), on the bench against Wales, is also unavailable while a fifth player, lock Johann Muller, will undergo a late fitness test for a tight hamstring.

If he is unavailable he will be replaced on the bench by backrower Francois Louw, and Willem Alberts will cover lock.

Sharks wing Odwa Ndungane, a surprise selection to the World Cup squad, will take over from Habana while burly Frans Steyn has been moved from fullback to inside centre.

The Sharks’ Pat Lambie has been included at fullback and should add some variety to the Boks’ back play.

There are two changes to the pack. Veteran lock Bakkies Botha has made a remarkable recovery and he has replaced Matfield in the second row while Gurthrö Steenkamp takes over from Beast Mtawarira at loosehead.

Springbok team doctor Craig Roberts said on Monday that Botha’s injury was not responding to injury - there was a strong possibility that he could be sent home, but the lock returned to training the next day and has been passed fit.

And that is just as well with Muller, the only other specialist lock in the squad, now also battling injury.

The pairing of Danie Rossouw and Botha in the second row does disturb the balance of the pack, providing the Boks with two strong and physical scrummagers but denying them a specialist lineout jumper.

The Springbok bench proved highly effective against Wales, but De Villiers has not been persuaded to make any changes.

Francois Hougaard, who replaced Habana on the wing and scored the winning try, and the influential Alberts and Bismarck du Plessis remain among the replacements where they are joined by Ruan Pienaar (a replacement for James), Juan de Jongh, who will cover the midfield, Mtawarira and Muller (if fit).

De Villiers has opted for the traditional 4:3 split on the bench with De Jongh added and prop CJ van der Linde making way. This will mean that Smit will have to cover tighthead prop if Jannie du Plessis picks up an injury.

De Villiers joked that injuries to certain players have made selection easier: “We have picked everyone who is fit.”

But he said it also gives him the opportunity to bring in other players who could be needed later in the tournament.

“Playing Bakkies is not a risk. He is ready to go.”

He said Frans Steyn, who spent most of the year at inside centre for his French club Racing Metro, had been shifted to the midfield to beef up the defence.

“We had problems in that area against Wales and we know the Fijians will run down that channel. We need a strong tackler there to stop their momentum.”

Captain Smit said the Boks expect a mighty challenge on Saturday.

“The Fijians are stronger than they were in 2007 [when they almost toppled the Boks in the quarter-finals] and we will have to be really focused on what we want to do.”

SOUTH AFRICAN TEAM: 15 Pat Lambie 14 JP Pietersen 13 Jaque Fourie 12 Frans Steyn 11 Odwa Ndungane 10 Morne Steyn 9 Fourie du Preez 8 Pierre Spies 7 Schalk Burger 6 Heinrich Brussow 5 Danie Rossouw 4 Bakkies Botha 3 Jannie du Plessis 2 John Smit (captain) 1 Gurthro Steenkamp

Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis 17 Tendai Mtawarira 18 Johann Muller 19 Willem Alberts 20 Fancois Hougaard 21 Ruan Pienaar 22 Juan de Jongh.

Kick-off: 8.00am (SA time).

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