Odwa ‘first choice’ replacement

2009-09-02 00:00

SHARKS wing Odwa Ndungane returns in the only change to the Springbok starting line-up for Saturday’s Tri-Nations international against the Wallabies in Brisbane.

Captain John Smit yesterday gave Peter de Villiers a hefty pat on the back for the consistency of his selection as the Springbok coach made just the one injury-enforced change on the wing where Ndungane takes over from JP Pietersen.

De Villiers is hoping that lock Bakkies Botha will overcome his fitness problems during the week, but he has Danie Rossouw as cover off the bench, while Sharks captain Johann Muller is being flown to Brisbane from Durban as additional back-up. Rossouw, over his hamstring problem, returns for the injured Andries Bekker on the bench.

“It makes a big difference having consistency in selection and it’s a wonderful advantage for us,” said Smit.

De Villiers also confirmed that concerns over the fitness of Bakkies Botha and Bryan Habana have eased and that both players will be ready to fill their places on Saturday. Botha was rested from practice yesterday, but Habana took part in the session.

De Villiers said that the selection of Ndungane had been obvious in spite of speculation that Frans Steyn would return on the wing.

“While we have a lot of versatile players in the squad, Odwa is a natural wing and therefore was the first choice. He has been running the moves with us for some time and is familiar with the defensive patterns so he should fit in pretty easily”.

Ndungane was delighted to have the opportunity to play in the Tri-Nations.

“I am looking forward to it. It is a great chance for me to get some game time and hopefully I can make a contribution to the success of the team.”

De Villiers was cautious about his team getting ahead of themselves.

“We have not won the Tri-Nations title yet and there are still two tough games to play. We are focusing on the immediate task at hand and that is to do well against Australia on Saturday”.

He said he was still looking for an improvement in the Boks’ performance.

“This team can still get much, much better and is playing winning rugby while still making errors.

“It excites me when I think of what these players can still do on the field,” he said.

De Villiers also has at his command the most experienced team in Springbok history and Saturday’s international will be the 50th Test appearance for centre Jaque Fourie, who is the fifth player after Schalk Burger, Bryan Habana, Jean de Villiers and Fourie du Preez to reach the milestone in 2009.

“There are a lot of guys in the squad now who have reached 50 and several others who are in the 80s, which brings great experience and composure to the team,” said Fourie.

“The spirit is great and the guys are eager to do well at the weekend,” he added.

Across in the Wallaby camp, coach Robbie Deans named a team showing five changes as the Australians look to break a run of four successive losses.

Berrick Barnes, over his concussion, brings composure and a kicking game to inside centre, and Deans promoted four players off the bench from last Saturday.

Scrumhalf Luke Burgess has finally been axed with the lively Will Genia his replacement and Drew Mitchell returns at wing for Peter Hynes.

Among the forwards, former Zimbabwean David Pocock is selected on the flank with George Smith moving to number eight in place of Richard Brown, while Tatafu Polota-Nau dislodges Stephen Moore in the front row.

Deans said the Wallabies, labelled “brain-dead” by the local media, would be up for the occasion.

“It’s a Test match and against the world’s best team at one of the premier venues in world rugby,” he said. “That’s not a prospect any of our blokes would take lightly.”

Kick-off: noon (SA time).

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