Meyer opts for Lood

2015-10-15 06:00
                                                                         ?????????????????????PHOTO: reuters
Lood de Jager on his way to scoring a try against Japan, will start Saturday’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final ahead of experienced veteran Vi

?????????????????????PHOTO: reuters Lood de Jager on his way to scoring a try against Japan, will start Saturday’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final ahead of experienced veteran Vi

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VICTOR Matfield, the most capped player in Springbok history, will play off the bench when South Africa meet Wales in Saturday’s World Cup quarter-finals at Twickenham.

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer will announce his team for the playoffs today and a member of the South African tour group has told The Witness that the 38-year-old Matfield, still considered the most effective lineout jumper in world rugby, will be among the replacements.

Indeed, the return of fit-again wing JP Pietersen for Sharks team-mate Lwazi Mvovo is likely to be the only change to the team who thumped the U.S. Eagles 64-0 a week ago.

Matfield, who was named as Springbok captain after Jean de Villliers’s tournament-ending injury, has missed the last two games because of a hamstring strain.

He is confident of being ready for Saturday, and will undergo fitness tests before the team are announced, but Meyer is apparently reluctant to fix what ain’t broke by splitting up his highly effective and in-form lock pairing of Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth.

The choice is a difficult one. Matfield is a lineout technician and an expert in poaching the opposition’s throw, but he is not as physically imposing as either De Jager or Etzebeth who have emerged as the leading lock pairing at the World Cup. And Saturday’s playoff will be hard and punishing and bruising.

Meyer’s solution, apparently, is to utilise Matfield off the bench and late in the game when his experience, his lineout work, his mobility and high tackle-rate could prove a factor.

Etzebeth was asked about the second-row selection dilemma at a media briefing and his admiration for the baby-faced De Jager was obvious in spite of his diplomatic response.

“They are both great players,” he said. “Victor has more caps but Lood has been playing well. His defence is fantastic and he is a good ball-carrier. Both players are assets for South African rugby.”

Etzebeth said he was inspired by the high work-rate of the 22-year-old De Jager.

“When I see him make a good tackle or he sees me make a good tackle, we want to match each other. I enjoy playing with him.”

The Boks have enjoyed a four-day break since their 64-0 rout of the United States in their final pool match last Wednesday but have regrouped at England’s base for the tournament at Pennyhill Park.

The Witness was also told yesterday that the 24-year-old Frans Malherbe has been scrumming on the tighthead at practices, taking over from veteran Jannie du Plessis — the Springboks’ first-choice in recent seasons.

Du Plessis has been troubled by a knee injury during the World Cup and he has not looked as comfortable as Malherbe at scrum-time while Meyer has also been concerned at the number of penalties conceded by the former Sharks prop.

“Our focus is back on rugby and what we need to do against Wales,” said Etzebeth.

While the Boks are likely to have all their first-choice players available, the Welsh have been decimated by injury and are missing five of their leading outside backs and their number one scrumhalf.

But Bok centre Jesse Kriel, who has come in for criticism for his alignment on defence, is aware that he will be targeted by the powerful Dragons’ midfield of George North and Jamie Roberts, both 110 kg British Lions.

“It’s going to be a challenge for us but a big challenge for them as well,” Kriel said. “They’ve obviously got some special players in their side, some big strong runners, but I think we’ve got exactly the same and the players to match that as well.”

Sharks flyhalf Pat Lambie said Wales would place the Springboks under pressure with their fast line speed and strong defence.

“They kick lots of high balls and lots of cross-field contestables which they chase down with huge intensity.”

Both Kriel and Lambie paid tribute to Bryan Habana who is just one try away from breaking the record for the most tries (15) scored in the World Cup.

“Bryan is world-class, definitely one of the best finishers in world rugby, as we’ve seen over the last few weeks,” Kriel said. “Knowing Bryan, I don’t think he’ll be too worried about the record. He’ll just want the best for the team. He brings calmness to our backs and he’s a legend.”

Lambie agreed, describing Habana as “a great role model, not only for other players in the group but youngsters around the world”.

Saturday’s quarter-final at Twickenham kicks off at 5 pm.

Likely South African starting line-up for Saturday: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Fourie du Preez (captain), 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger (vice-captain), 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira

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