Rugby: De Villiers bets all on experience

By Mike Greenaway

Boks coach puts faith in old campaigners, by Mike Greenaway.

Lock Victor Matfield will be key to the Springboks' chances. Photo / NZ Herald
Lock Victor Matfield will be key to the Springboks' chances. Photo / NZ Herald

At every turn Springbok coach Peter de Villiers opted for experience when choosing his World Cup squad, with a host of red-hot Super 15 youngsters losing out to seasoned campaigners.

No fewer than 18 of the squad that won the 2007 title are included as the Boks set out to be the first champions to defend the Cup, and the first to win it three times - Australia and South Africa have each won it twice. And in that 18 are 12 players that started the final against England, plus two more that would have been in that 15 had they not suffered misfortune.

No 8 Pierre Spies withdrew from the 2007 squad with a mystery blood disorder, but is back this time, and vice-captain and inside centre Jean de Villiers tore a bicep muscle in the opening match of the last World Cup, against Samoa.

The unlucky de Villiers endured a similar fate in 2003 when he incurred a serious shoulder injury in the Boks' final warm-up match before heading to Australia.

Six players (and five members of the pack) will be at their third World Cup - captain John Smit, vice-captain Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw and Schalk Burger, along with centre Jaque Fourie.

The bolter in the squad is former Stormers (and now Bath) openside flank Francois Louw. He had given up on his international career after winning a few caps in 2010 but then being dropped and not given a look-in even in the Bok B-team that did Tri-Nations duty earlier this year.

Louw's reprieve comes down to the cover required for injury-prone but highly effective opensider Heinrich Brussow, in for injured veteran Juan Smith. While the loss of the much-respected Smith is a big blow because of his ball-carrying, defensive and lineout abilities, Brussow adds a new dimension to the Bok forward play with his ability to win ball on the ground.

De Villiers dropped in-form Cheetahs flank Ashley Johnson to accommodate Louw, who is one of four overseas-based Springboks.

The others are the Ulster duo of (lock) Johann Muller and (halfback) Ruan Pienaar, and Racing Metro fullback Francois Steyn.

Muller has got the nod ahead of young bucks Gerhard Mostert and Flip van der Merwe.

Missing from the second rowers is Stormers' Andries Bekker, who was one of the stars of the Super 15 before injuring his ankle.

Another Super 15 revelation, winger Lwazi Mvovo, lost out to a Sharks teammate, 30-year-old veteran Odwa Ndungane, who has recovered from a long-term injury and was chosen according to the coach's policy of "if in doubt, pick the older bloke".

The only baby face is that of Patrick Lambie, who will turn 21 on October 17.

"The squad has a backbone of proven title-winning ability and experience as well as a strong component of newer stars," said de Villiers.

"Injury has denied us one or two players who could have been very important to us, but I am very happy with the squad we have picked.

"We have good coverage for every position and front-line players who have shown over the past half dozen seasons that they know how to win big games."

Smit said that although the wealth of experience was useful, it had to be matched with hunger.

"We have got to be careful. Yes, more than half the squad has won a World Cup but we have to understand that we are starting from scratch in a completely different event," he said.

"It will take a different mindset to win it this time, and us older guys will have to be even hungrier than in 2007."

- NZ Herald

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