Rugby World Cup: Springboks' mindset difficult to determine

THE MAIN CONTENDERS New Zealand have the focus, Wales have the form while the Scots have shrewdness and South Africans are in transition
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The Independent Online
ACCORDING TO sources inside the Springbok camp, Os du Randt and Bobby Skinstad resorted to the Marquis of Queensbury's rules to sort out their differences during a particularly frank and forthright training session recently. Only one winner there, in all probability. The "Ox", as the gargantuan Du Randt is fondly known by those who like their prop forwards meaty, beefy, big and bouncy, must have brushed the lithe and athletic Skinstad aside with one wave of the tower block that doubles as his forearm.

But this intriguing little spat throws up all manner of queries about the South African mindset as they prepare to defend the title they won in such emotional fashion a little over four years ago. Were these two deeply influential Bok forwards simply champing at the bit in readiness for their opening set-to with Scotland this weekend? Or was the brief flurry of fisticuffs indicative of another of those regular splits between the high veldt Afrikaaner contingent, as represented by du Randt, and the super-swanky Cape Town set, as epitomised by Bobby the Golden Boy?

It is a question worth asking, if only because the cross-culture unity so painstakingly pieced together by Nick Mallett during the Springboks' record-equalling sequence of 17 straight Test victories between August 1997 and December of last year appears to have slipped from its foundations. Worringly, Mallett's own reputation as a progressive and sympathetic man manager has taken a severe bruising as a direct result of the exceedingly odd Gary Teichmann Affair. For 16 exhilarating months, Teichmann was Mallett's High Chamberlain. He captained the Boks throughout their famous run and, at every turn, the coach extolled his virtues and praised him to the heavens. Then... nothing. Not a single phone call. Teichmann had to ring Mallett to discover that he was no longer part of the coach's plans. Strange days indeed.

So now we have Joost van der Westhuizen, the world's finest scrum-half but a complicated sort at the best of times, sitting on Teichmann's recently abdicated throne. How will the taciturn Pretorian connect with the multi- lingual Oxbridge intellectual from the Cape? No-one has the faintest, least of all the combustible Springbok public. Leaving aside those five Mandela-inspired Rainbow Nation weeks in 1995, rugby has never been the most united pursuit in South Africa's sporting portfolio. A serious misfire in this tournament could result in yet another boardroom upheaval.

On the other hand, no one responds to rugby adversity quite like a Springbok. They will fight themselves to a standstill to protect their crown - remember, the Boks have never lost a World Cup match - and when every last ounce of energy is spent, they will fight some more. The real hard nuts - Andre Venter, Rassie Erasmus, Naka Drotske, Pieter Muller, Brendan Venter - will go to the ends of their oval-shaped earth to dominate, both physically and emotionally, whatever opposition might stand in their way. There will be no backward steps on the road to Cardiff, no compromises of any description.

On the evidence of the last Tri-Nations, the Boks are in poor shape; indeed, their back play appears to have slipped to 1992 standards. But form is extremely temporary in the professional climate - it was only nine months ago that Teichmann's side stood on the brink of history. They will probably scrummage more strongly than any side in the tournament and their back row will be something to behold, always assuming Skinstad has recovered his wits after being "oxed" by the Ox. If they are still in the big games when the clock ticks down to the last 10, expect them to bludgeon their way to victory.

SOUTH AFRICA

Coach: Nick Mallett

Captain: Joost van der Westhuizen

World Cup record: 1987 - Not invited; 1991 - Not invited;

1995 - Champions

How they qualified: Holders.

Registered adult players: 59,240

SQUAD

Percy Montgomery (Western Province)

Kaya Malotana (Border)

Breyton Paulse (Western Province)

Pieter Rossouw (Western Province)

Stefan Terblanche (Natal)

Deon Kayser (Eastern Province)

Robbie Fleck (Western Province)

Wayne Julies (Boland)

Pieter Muller (Natal)

Brendan Venter (London Irish)

Jannie de Beer (Sale)

Henry Honiball (Bristol)

Joost van der Westhuizen (Blue Bulls, capt)

Werner Swanepoel (Golden Lions)

Os Du Randt (Free State)

Adrian Garvey (Natal)

Ollie Le Roux (Natal)

Cobus Visagie (Western Province)

Naka Drotske (Free State)

Chris Rossouw (Natal)

Mark Andrews (Natal)

Selborne Boome (Western Province)

Krynauw Otto (Blue Bulls)

Albert van den Berg (Griqualand West)

Johan Erasmus (Golden Lions)

Ruben Kruger (Blue Bulls)

Bobby Skinstad (Western Province)

Andre Venter (Free State)

Anton Leonard (South West Districts)

Andre Vos (Golden Lions)

Key player

JOOST VAN DER WESTHUIZEN (Scrum-half)

The scrum-half, 14st (89kgs) and 6ft tall (1.85m), is South Africa's most prolific try-scorer, with 26 in 52 Tests. Now captain, having been out of action for seven months after breaking his leg in a 13-7 defeat to England, his main assets are his well-timed runs from the base of rucks, mauls and scrums and his ability to become a ninth forward when his pack needs a hand.

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