Astonishment at Springbok squad selection

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Australian coach Robbie Deans has made five changes for Saturday's Tri-Nations Test against South Africa in Durban, arguing that fresh legs were vital after the physicality of Durban last weekend.

By complete contrast and to general astonishment, Springbok coach Peter de Villiers has retained 13 of his losing side, making two changes only because of a suspension and injury.

You have to say, it looks as though one of the coaches has got it spot-on, the other has made a complete horlicks of his selection. Tea-time tomorrow at a famous old rugby ground called Ellis Park which has now flogged off its naming rights to be known as ‘Coca Cola Stadium’ should reveal who is the clown and who is the clever clogs.

Deans admits that after beating the Springboks in Durban, making wholesale changes could be construed as a lack of respect. But he counters “If anything, it’s the opposite.

“It’s because of the respect we have for them, and the enormity of the challenge we have in front of us trying to win back-to-back South African Test matches, and in Johannesburg for the first time in so long, that we feel we need to bring in some fresh legs.

“Last weekend took a lot out of our guys as it did some of theirs. We will need the impetus that the fresh legs we’ve included will bring.”

Australia has only once previously won consecutive Tests in South Africa. That was 45 years ago, and they’ve only ever won once in Johannesburg (in nine attempts), also back in 1963. But they know that if they win tomorrow the Tri-Nations title will be theirs to lose, with only a home game against New Zealand in Brisbane, remaining.

The Wallabies are wary of running headlong into a stirred up South African side rendered desperate by the stinging criticism of this rugby-mad nation.

“They have got one more shot at it in this year’s Tri-Nations” says Deans.

“If they can take it, they can park the rest of the tournament and move forward a lot more positively towards their end of season tour preparations. Ask yourself how you’d feel in their position? There’s no doubt they’ll be up for it.”

The South Africans’ problem is that this is their fourth Test match in successive weeks and fatigue, both mental and physical, is an obvious danger. They’ve been excoriated for becoming the first South African side in history to lose two home Tri-Nations games in one season. Defeat in a third, which would be their fifth loss in six Tri-Nations matches this season, is unthinkable.

Thus, everyone assumed, new faces would be brought in to offer a fresh impetus. But De Villiers has opted to give them another chance, a risky and bold gamble with tired bodies.

The Springboks, who lost the Mandela Plate to the Wallabies with their defeats in Perth and Durban, are still without influential captain John Smit, plus tight head prop CJ van der Linde who received a four week ban for a dangerous challenge at a ruck last week. Bakkies Botha and Bryan Habana are other absentees and the loss of such experience will be felt by the home team.

It is up to half-backs Fourie du Preez and Butch James to lift their games to offer a firm direction for the whole side. Neither has been anywhere near his best of late but perhaps a combination of Johannesburg, the high veldt and forecast winter temperatures of 26 degrees will help raise their spirits and performances.

Blog: Where will the key battles take place?


SOUTH AFRICA: C. Jantjes; O. Ndungane, A. Jacobs, J. de Villiers, J. Nokwe; B. James, F. du Preez; T. Mtawarira, B. du Plessis, B. Mujati, A. Bekker, V. Matfield (Capt.), S. Burger, J. Smith, P. Spies.

AUSTRALIA: A. Ashley-Cooper; P. Hynes, S. Mortlock (Capt.), T. Tahu, L. Tuqiri; M. Giteau, S. Cordingley; B. Robinson, T. Polota-Nau, M. Dunning, J. Horwill, H. McMeniman, R. Elsom, P. Waugh, W. Palu.