Rugby: Caution pays for Springbok veterans

Victor Matfield. Photo / Supplied
Victor Matfield. Photo / Supplied

There will be sighs of relief all over South Africa at the news that veterans Victor Matfield, Schalk Burger and Bryan Habana have passed fitness tests and are part of the Springbok team to play Wales in the Group D opener tomorrow.

Bakkies Botha, though, as predicted, is out, replaced by Bulls teammate Danie Rossouw, with Johann Muller promoted to the bench to cover the second row.

Matfield and Habana have not trained yet this week because of stiff hamstrings and the medical staff's decision to err on the side of caution has paid off.

Burger, of course, has not played since breaking a bone in his hand late in the Stormers' Super rugby campaign and he too has been treated almost literally with kid gloves. The result is a fighting-fit flanker champing at the bit to get stuck into the Welsh.

Coach Peter de Villiers has opted for a heavy five-two split on the bench in favour of the forwards, an indication of where he sees the battle being won against the belligerent Welsh and also that he needs cover for the likes of Matfield and Burger.

The latter has back-up in the form of Willem Alberts, to the probable dismay of Wales considering that Albert almost single-handedly changed the course of the game when he came on in the second half in Cardiff last year.

In the front row, Beast Mtawarira has been preferred to last year's SA Rugby Player of the Year, Gurthro Steenkamp, who is part of a powerhouse and very experienced bench with Alberts, Bismarck du Plessis, CJ van der Linde and Johann Muller, who is making his first appearance for the Boks since 2009.

De Villiers has made five changes to the team that defeated New Zealand 18-5 in Port Elizabeth in the Boks' final Tri-Nations match, recalling captain John Smit at hooker, loosehead prop Mtawarira, Burger, and fullback Frans Steyn while Rossouw replaces Botha, who remains in doubt for next week's match against Fiji because of his Achilles tendon problem.

This Springbok team is the most experienced in history with 815 caps - narrowly surpassing the 810 of the team that played Australia in Durban in August.

The only two backline reserves are Butch James and Francois Hougaard, with the latter covering halfback and wing and the former first five-eighths and centre.

With wind and rain forecast, the Boks might have a slight advantage since they are accustomed to the conditions at the Westpac Stadium.


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