White readies Springboks for a black attack

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The Independent Online

Perhaps the best way to put it is that South African rugby has been through another of its cathartic processes this week.

Perhaps the best way to put it is that South African rugby has been through another of its cathartic processes this week.

But at the conclusion of a week of wrangling over money and negotiations between South African Rugby board members and players, South Africa have a Tri-Nations Test match to play. And it is a rather important one, too.

There have been petulant accusations, the rather childish wearing of white armbands in a Test match to protest about contracts and pay, the resignation of the deputy president of SA Rugby and attendant allegations of dictatorship on the part of the president. Then there were claims that a leading player, the lock Victor Matfield, was removed from the Springbok squad due to non-rugby considerations.

Is this, one wonders, the perfect backdrop from which to confront the revitalised New Zealanders, who are now laying claim to the title of best in the world? Most certainly it is not.

Commendable as his persona of calm and quiet authority is, the Springboks' coach, Jake White, must be simmering inside. Taking on New Zealand at any time is difficult enough. To have seen the preceding week dominated by talk of almost anything but the actual game must leave White close to despair.

On the field, South Africa will confront the best team in the world this year with a side of maybes, could-bes, might-prove-to-bes and others with even more direct question marks against their names. A whole file full of queries surrounds this Springbok side.

For instance, if the Springboks are to have a chance, they must establish the "nudge" in the scrums. This could be one of the few All Black weaknesses, but only if the tighthead prop Eddie Andrews locks the scrummage sufficiently tightly. He may have to play the game of his life to do it, against the excellent Kees Meeuws.

Can Bakkies Botha and Albert van den Berg tame the dangerous All Black lock Chris Jack, the source of quality possession for New Zealand? And can the Springboks' fringe defence withstand its inevitable examination from the aggressive All Black back row?

The Springboks have a powerful pack and New Zealand are by no means the finished product. But can the South Africans build sufficient forward momentum to get the All Blacks on the back foot?

Behind the scrum, similar questions emerge. Has the scrum-half Fourie du Preez a sufficiently accurate kicking game? Is he capable of subduing the aggressive Justin Marshall, bursting off the fringes in the company of the confrontational Jerry Collins? Can Jaco van der Westhuyzen at No 10 play the tighter, kicking style of game he may need to employ?

Can the Springbok back row get out wide quickly enough to help Breyton Paulse contain the most dangerous runner in the All Black backs, Joe Rokocoko?

It is true that New Zealand's preparations have been seriously disrupted by bout of gastric flu in their camp. Remember, too, that they are without the key forwards Keith Robinson, Richie McCaw and Jonno Gibbes. They are far from settled and could, possibly, be made to pay.

But given what has happened this week, if the Springboks win it will be one of the biggest upsets in Tri-Nations history.

New Zealand: M Muliaina; D Howlett, T Umaga (capt), D Carter, J Rokocoko; C Spencer, J Marshall; K Meeuws, K Mealamu, G Somerville, C Jack, S Maling, J Collins, X Rush, M Holah. Replacements: A Hore, T Woodcock, A Williams, C Newby, B Kelleher, S Tuitupou, N Evans.

South Africa: P Montgomery; B Paulse, M Joubert, D Barry, J de Villiers; J van der Westhuyzen, F du Preez; O du Randt, J Smit (capt), E Andrews, B Botha, A van den Berg, S Burger, J Cronje, AJ Venter. Replacements: D Coetzee, F Rautenbach, Q Davids, J van Niekerk, B Conradie, G du Toit, B Russell.

Referee: A Cole (Australia)