Rugby Union: Confident All Blacks prepare for the 'ultimate challenge'

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The Independent Online
The centre Japie Mulder has been ruled out of South Africa's team for the second Test against New Zealand in Pretoria today. Mulder missed the first Test in Durban with back spasms and failed a fitness check on Thursday. However, the new Springbok captain, Gary Teichmann, has recovered from a bruised thigh and is ready to play.

Mulder's absence means that the Northern Transvaal centre, Andre Snyman, should win his second cap alongside his provincial colleague, Danie van Schalkwyk. The wing Pieter Hendriks is expected to retain his place, despite speculation that Snyman would be picked out of position on the wing.

The All Blacks have announced an unchanged team as they try to become the first New Zealand side to win a series in South Africa. Even though the stand-off Andrew Mehrtens has made a rapid recovery from a cartilage operation, they retain the side which won in Durban last week. Simon Culhane keeps the No 10 jersey as the coach, John Hart, sticks to his policy of consistency in selection.

This is the ninth successive international in which Hart has named an unchanged pack, and in all he has used only 19 players. The Springboks will not whittle down their 23-strong squad until shortly before the kick- off, and changes are expected. Seven were made before last week's 23-19 Test defeat.

The lock Mark Andrews said: "We've had a few new players come in because of injuries or whatever and it's been hard for us but that's no excuse."

Andrews is likely to move back to South Africa's problem position of No 4 in the line-out, with Kobus Wiese coming in at No 2 to replace Hannes Strydom. The centre Japie Mulder should return after a back problem, with Andre Snyman, Mulder's replacement in Durban, expected to be given a second cap on the wing in place of Pieter Hendriks. Justin Swart would then make the positional move to the left wing. The scrum-half Joost van der Westhuizen is likely to oust Johan Roux for the No 9 jersey in front of his home crowd at Loftus Versfeld.

The Springboks also face a psychological challenge following three successive Test defeats by the All Blacks this season. The All Blacks captain, Sean Fitzpatrick, is keen to extend the run. "It's always exciting playing South Africa - it's the ultimate challenge," he said.