Rugby Union: Springboks ring the changes

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The Independent Online
South African rugby partisans have never been noted for their fond appreciation of opposition teams, but Martin Johnson's triumphant Lions appear to be held in higher regard by the Springbok hordes than by any of the political bigwigs back home. Fran Cotton, the tour manager, yesterday admitted his surprise at the absence of a congratulatory message from Tony Banks, the new Minister for Sport, in the wake of last weekend's series-clinching win in Durban.

"We've heard nothing from either the Government or the Opposition," said Cotton, who can date his first brush with the good burghers of Westminster to 1974, the year of the most controversial Lions tour of all to a land then in the depths of apartheid. "We know our performances have made an impact at home and we've received a good deal of support from rugby people and some involved in other sports, but there have been no official congratulations."

Perhaps Banks might take note of the Lions' achievement in the light of last night's announcement of the Springbok team for the third and final Test in Johannesburg on Saturday, for the Lions have succeeded in making an unholy mess of Carel du Plessis' original first-choice side. Henry Honiball, the hard-running outside-half from Natal, has been dropped from the 21-strong squad following his travails at King's Park while two front- rowers, Naka Drotske and Adrian Garvey, are relegated to the bench.

Jannie de Beer, a quality goal-kicker who played strongly for Free State against the midweek Lions in Bloemfontein seven days ago, wins his first cap at stand-off while James Dalton, the fiery hooker from Gauteng, and Dawie Theron, the Griqualand West prop who played against Wales in Cardiff last December, reappear in the pack. There are two other changes up front: Johan Erasmus, another Free State debutant, replaces Ruben Kruger at blind- side flanker while Krynauw Otto takes over from Mark Andrews in the second row. Both Kruger and Andrews were injured during the ultra-physical battle in Durban.

Meanwhile, Jason Leonard captains the midweekers against Northern Free State in Welkom this afternoon. Regarded as the least testing fixture on the 13-match itinerary - Northerns caught an 80-point shellacking from Western Province in one of their most recent matches - the game should see the Lions at their most adventurous.

The two latest additions to the party, Kyran Bracken and Tony Stanger, both turn out. Eager to regain his scrum-half berth with England in the one-off Test against Australia in Sydney on Saturday week, Bracken will be looking to capitalise on the rich vein of form he struck towards the end of the last domestic season. Stanger plays on the right wing and will then rejoin the Scottish squad for the remainder of their South African tour.

"There are two matches left and we have a total focus on maintaining standards," Cotton said. "We will wait until after the game in Welkom before putting together the side for the final Test and we won't shy away from making changes to personnel if we believe they will enhance our chances of a clean sweep. We're going to Ellis Park to win; in the first two Tests, we had to fight for our lives but that's not the situation any more. The battle now is with ourselves in terms of attitude and commitment."

Keith Wood, the Irish hooker who was one of the most influential performers in both Tests, is in serious danger of missing the Johannesburg showpiece because of groin trouble. Yesterday, Cotton rated his chances no better than 50-50. Alan Tait and Eric Miller are also struggling with strains; Tait damaged a groin muscle in the later stages of Saturday's epic while Miller, desperate to make the field as a replacement for his first Test cap, pulled a thigh muscle as he rushed on. No one could accuse the Lions of a lack of enthusiasm.

BRITISH ISLES (v Northern Free State, Welkom, today): T Stimpson (Newcastle and England); A Stanger (Hawick and Scotland), A Bateman (Richmond and Wales), N Beal (Northampton and England), T Underwood (Newcastle and England); M Catt (Bath and England), K Bracken (Saracens and England); J Leonard (Harlequins and England, capt), M Regan (Bristol and England), D Young (Cardiff and Wales), N Redman (Bath and England), S Shaw (Wasps and England), R Wainwright (Watsonians and Scotland), A Diprose (Saracens and England), N Back (Leicester

and England). Replacements: N Jenkins (Pontypridd and Wales), J Guscott (Bath and England), A Healey (Leicester and England), B Williams (Richmond and Wales), G Rowntree (Leicester and England), T Rodber (Northampton and England).

SOUTH AFRICA (v British Isles, Johannesburg, Saturday): A Joubert (Natal); A Snyman (Northern Transvaal), P Montgomery (Western Province), D van Schalkwyk (Northern Transvaal), P Rossouw (Western Province); J de Beer (Free State), J van der Westhuizen (Northern Transvaal); P du Randt (Free State), J Dalton (Gauteng), D Theron (Griqualand West), H Strydom (Gauteng), K Otto (Northern Transvaal), J Erasmus (Free State), G Teichmann (Natal, capt), A Venter (Free State). Replacements: R Bennett (Border), B Wessels (Griqualand West), W Swanepoel (Free State), N Drotske (Free State), A Garvey (Natal), F van Heerden (Western Province).