Rugby Union: Botha in a test of tenacity

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NAAS BOTHA, a former soldier, faces the daunting task of leading the Springboks back from international isolation against such formidable foes as the All Blacks at Ellis Park here tomorrow. At 34, he refuses to wilt under the pressure of carrying the passionate hopes of a nation - at least the white section of it.

'It is eight years since our last official Test against England so we are stepping into the unknown,' Botha said. 'Our athletes at the Olympic Games discovered the difference when competing at world level. I know about this personally as my wife took part in the long jump in Barcelona.

'I have never heard of a poor All Blacks team and they have the advantage of being at the end of two tours following their visit to Australia. At this stage predictions are pointless, but I assure you my players are talented and have the heart needed to compensate for lack of experience.

'Our approach will be tough but there will be no punching or over-aggression as we cannot afford to have a player sent off in such a critical Test.'

There is still a strong feeling here that the Springboks can win and improve the record of 20 victories to 15 against New Zealand over a 70-year span. This is based on the belief that they possess forwards with the ability to limit their rivals' possession, especially in the line-outs, which have

become more important than scrummaging under the revised laws.

With four tall men, Adri Geldenhuys, Adolf Malan, Janie Bredt and Ian MacDonald, it is thought they might have more options than New Zealand's smaller jumpers, Ian Jones, Robin Brooke and Zinzan Brooke.

John Williams, a former international lock who coaches South Africa, said he is not concerned that the Australian referee Sandy MacNeill - the first neutral referee to officiate between the two teams in South Africa - will be strict on penalising lifting in the line-out as he believes his men are good enough to adapt. But he might find it is difficult to stop transgressions of the rule since this has become accepted in domestic rugby here.

Providing his forwards gain sufficient control Botha is certain to be an important influence on the outcome. He is a brilliant tactician and well-versed in the approach needed to win matches on the high veldt. Botha has also dropped 15 goals in 23 international appearances.

New Zealand also possess a master kicker in Grant Fox. He was dropped following last year's World Cup, but appears to have benefited as he now shows more versatility in creating back-line options. This has helped the full- back, John Timu, to emerge as an attacking force.

Following eight internationals over the last three months the All Blacks must start slight favourites, especially as their forwards are exceptionally mobile and superb handlers when supporting movements. They also see this game as an opportunity to improve their rating and are certain to be compared with Australia, who play the Springboks in a week's time.

Williams admitted yesterday that provincial rugby, which has been the only competition available, is below the standard which can be expected at Ellis Park. He is hoping his team can rise to the occasion. 'This is the most important match in our rugby history,' he said.

Rugby remains the No 1 sport in white South Africa and their team embark on a fascinating mission here. They are hoping to take the first step to recapture their former pre-eminence, but it is doubtful whether this can be achieved immediately against such well- equipped rivals as New Zealand.

SOUTH AFRICA: T van Rensburg; J Small, P Muller, D Gerber, P Hendriks; N Botha (capt), R du Preez; L Muller, U Schmidt, H Rodgers, A Geldenhuys, W Bartmann, I MacDonald, J Breedt, A Malan.

NEW ZEALAND: J Timu; J Kirwan, W Little, F Bunce, V Tuigamala; G Fox, A Strachan; O Brown, S Fitzpatrick (capt), R Loe, I Jones, J Joseph, Z Brooke, M Jones, R Brooke.