Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Rugby World Cup: Hard man Botha cleared for Wallabies game

Springboks v Australia
Wellington, 6pm Sunday
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (NZ)

South Africa's physical intimidation factor has been cranked up several notches with hard man Bakkies Botha cleared for selection in the World Cup quarter-final against Australia.

Whether the veteran Bulls brute lock starts or plays a significant part in the Wellington showdown is another matter, following an injury-affected tournament so far.

But there is little doubt that even though Botha has talked up the Aussie pack, saying they are much tougher in the Robbie Deans era, the Springboks must see them as ripe for smashing after their capitulation against Ireland.

While Australia should have Digby Ioane and Pat McCabe back from injury, South Africa have postponed this morning's scheduled team announcement until Friday because of uncertainty over backs Bryan Habana (leg bruising), J.P. Pietersen (knee), and Francois Hougaard (head knock).

They were injured in the last pool match against Samoa, but are rated more likely to play than not. Habana is in the best shape, but Hougaard may have more tests tomorrow.

Botha has had an in and out World Cup. He started with an Achilles tendon problem and strained a hamstring against Namibia. He was headed for an early return home after a fitness ultimatum from coach Peter de Villiers, but survived.

The 32-year-old Botha, who will play for a French club after this tournament, sat centre stage at yesterday's press conference in the team's central Wellington hotel, declaring himself 100 per cent fit and with a lot of pent-up frustration to be released. He has played just 90 minutes so far in the romps against Fiji and Namibia.

Botha's mere presence was a message of sorts for an Aussie pack which folded in the shock defeat to Ireland.

With the sun perhaps setting on his outstanding and controversial 76-test career, he has every motivation to fire up as South Africa attempt to retain their world crown. And a Bakkies Botha burst is not to be taken lightly.

Botha said: "A handful of us have been around the block for a while and know this could be our last game.

"When you pull on that green and gold jersey you must give it your all. We're not holding back one inch.

"Even if you play for 20 or 30 minutes, as long as you know in your heart you gave 100 per cent. I thought I was on the way back home so you never know when it is your last game."

The rampant Danie Russouw is a high-class option to partner Victor Matfield, Botha's long-time comrade in arms. If versatile back Hougaard is fit, de Villiers can run five forwards on his bench, which makes plenty of room for Botha should his 80-minute fitness still be in doubt.

Springbok goalkicking ace Morne Steyn believes he is capable of landing longer goals to compensate for the loss of the injured Francois Steyn.

Francois Steyn is capable of breaking the 60-metre mark, and Morne Steyn said: "Maybe I can get close to that ..."

While the World Cup balls have been blamed for widespread goalkicking woes, Steyn defended them.

"Gilbert came to us with the World Cup balls and they are almost exactly the same as the Super 15 balls."

Meanwhile, Aussie loose forward Rocky Elsom has pinpointed the breakdown as the key to Sunday's quarter-final.

"Every inch of ascendancy you gain at the breakdown is crucial."

- NZ Herald

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