De Villiers has great chance to kick habit

Springbok coach can ditch safety-first approach in today's Tri-Nations clash with Wallabies
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The Independent Online

Despite the arrogant posturing of their coach this week on the subject, one thing is for sure – South Africa, although clearly the No 1 team in the world at this time, are showing no sort of leadership in how to play the game.

Peter de Villiers, the Springbok coach, has got his team playing a kicking obsessed, safety first game. Yet this week he accused New Zealand and Australia of copying world rugby's new "leaders".

"We always said when we took over this job that South African sport should be leaders and not followers anymore," De Villiers added. "It took us a while from isolation up to now to come to grips that we could be leaders. For other big countries in rugby like Australia and New Zealand to try to follow us now speaks volumes of the fact we can dictate the terms of how rugby can be played."

To suggest that the Springboks are showing the world how to play the game, leaves a sick feeling in the stomach. If they are, then the sport is in serious trouble. Even De Villiers, in his occasional, more lucid moments, says all the South Africans have done is adapt back to the old laws. There is some truth in that for the game is once again riddled with penalty goals.

But if the Springboks wish to scramble up on to that moral high ground, they need to start doing something other than just kicking the ball all the time. They have a great chance this weekend – the Australians, whom they meet in Perth this morning UK time, are struggling badly and seriously below strength.

Robbie Deans' team have lost all three games so far in the tournament, two to New Zealand and one to the Springboks in Cape Town where they could not cope with the South Africans' forward power. It may well be a similar story this time although the unpredictable Wallabies should not be ruled out. They still have players who could rise to the occasion.

De Villiers has brought Ruan Pienaar in at full-back for François Steyn and restored Schalk Burger to the bench after his suspension for eye-gouging. Scrum-half Fourie du Preez will earn his 50th Test cap for South Africa today.

The Wallabies are weakened by the loss of lock Nathan Sharpe, plus both centres, captain Stirling Mortlock and Berrick Barnes, all through injury. Ryan Cross, at centre, Mark Chisholm, at lock and Peter Hynes on the left wing are the new men but the key will be whether the Australian pack can live with the power of the Springbok forwards. It seems doubtful.

Flanker Rocky Elsom has overcome an ankle injury to be close enough to 100 per cent fit to play and feels the Wallabies are capable of downing the unbeaten Springboks.

"There's always a lot of pressure because you are playing the best sides over and over. If you don't perform not only could you lose, but it could get embarrassing too," Elsom said.

"There's always an element of pressure to perform and that doesn't change because we didn't get the win last week. It's not necessarily about pride, we want to beat South Africa because we think we can and they are the best team in the world at the moment. A key thing for us is to back our options. Our execution during the week has been good, it was a bit of a step up last week again [against the All Blacks] and what we are doing is fine, it's just about getting out there and doing it on the field."

Australia: J O'Connor; L Turner, R Cross, A Ashley-Cooper, P Hynes; M Giteau, L Burgess; B Robinson, S Moore, B Alexander, J Horwill, M Chisholm, R Elsom, G Smith (capt), R Brown.

South Africa: R Pienaar; JP Pietersen, J Fourie, J de Villiers, B Habana; M Steyn, F du Preez; T Mtawarira, B Du Plessis, J Smit (capt), B Botha, V Matfield, H Brussow, J Smith, P Spies.

Referee: B Lawrence (New Zealand).

Swine flu halts Castres games

Two France Top 14 championship matches have been postponed after six players and a physiotherapist of the Castres club were diagnosed with swine flu, the French rugby league (LNR) said yesterday. "The board of the LNR decided during an emergency meeting to postpone the next two games in which the Castres Olympique club were due to play," the League said in a statement.

"Another case has also been diagnosed in the team who played against Castres last weekend," the league added.

Castres defeated Bourgoin 29-9 last Saturday. They were scheduled to host Montauban today and travel to Albi on Wednesday. Three Stade Français players were diagnosed with the virus earlier this week and while their match will go on the three players have been advised to stay at home for five to seven days. Another unidentified player, with Bayonne, was also diagnosed this week.

An LNR teleconference including all the doctors attached to the League's 14 teams was due to be held last night, said LNR general manager Arnaud Dagorne. "For reasons of public health and to try and limit the spread of the virus Castres team and staff members should stay away from each other at least until Wednesday," Dagorne said. "This measure has been taken to try and protect the players and their families."