Boks and All Blacks set for latest battle
July 22, 2009
Springboks fly-half Ruan Pienaar kicks for goal during the second Test victory over the Lions last month © Getty Images
Ruan Pienaar has reclaimed the Springboks' No.10 shirt for their Tri-Nations opener against New Zealand at Vodacom Park in Bloemfontein.
The Sharks No.10 fought off the challenge of the Bulls' Morne Steyn to be handed the play-making role in what is a strong Springboks side. The only players missing from the starting line-up that wrapped up a series victory over the British & Lions in their second Test clash in Pretoria are injured centre Adrian Jacobs and suspended flanker Schalk Burger.
Coach Peter De Villiers has opted for the skill of Pienaar, despite some mixed form early in the Lions series, with Steyn coming on late to kick the match-winning penalty at Loftus Versfeld.
The midfield was the other area of debate but made easier for the coach as Jacobs has struggled all week with a groin injury. Centre Jaque Fourie has been cleared of a quad niggle and will start at centre, alongside long-time midfield colleage Jean de Villiers. Fullback Francois Steyn and wingers JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana form a predictable, if potent, back three.
Captain John Smit at tighthead prop is part of the all-Sharks front row who demolished the Lions for much of the first Test at Durban. World class Bulls pair Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha are reunited at lock after Botha was suspended from the third Lions test at Johannesburg.
Burger is still serving his ban for eye gouging, leaving Heinrich Brussouw in the openside role while Juan Smith will be on the blindside, meaning both flankers will play at their Cheetahs home ground, Vodacom Park. Super 14 stars with the Bulls, No.8 Pierre Spies and halfback Fourie du Preez form a key combination at the base of the Springboks scrum.
Fourie's place on the bench has been taken by Bulls counterpart Olivier, called up yesterday as cover for Jacobs, while Jannie du Plessis, the Sharks prop who was not part of the last series, is also amongst the replacements, with Andries Bekker the unlucky player to miss out from the initial 23-man squad.
New Zealand coach Graham Henry has made two changes to the side that beat Australia 22-16 in their Tri-Nations opener against Australia last weekend. Both come in the backline with winger Joe Rokocoko getting the nod ahead of Cory Jane and scrum-half Brendon Leonard comes in for Jimmy Cowan who drops out of the 22 altogether. No.9 Piri Weepu joins the replacements for the Vodacom Park clash.
Rokocoko's recall comes despite some indifferent Super 14 form that continued during the June Tests against France and Italy but the 55-times-capped Aucklander is a proven performer overseas and Henry will be banking on a revved-up performance on the right wing. His combination with fullback Mils Muliaina and Sitiveni Sivivatu is a proven one, with that trio used three times in Europe during last year's tour.
Their combined Test caps of 162 is an All Blacks test record for a back three, moving ahead of the 156 shared by Muliaina, Rokocoko and Doug Howlett against Australia at Auckland two years ago.
Leonard will make just his second appearance since the 2007 Rugby World Cup, having played in last month's defeat of Italy in Christchurch. Henry indicated last week that the lively Waikato No.9 may get a run on the harder surface, which best suits his sniping style.
The All Blacks backline and forward pack are both marginally less experienced than their Springboks counterparts. The visitors' Test experience measures a healthy 565 caps but is trumped by 617 for the hosts.
There are no changes to the pack, where flanker Richie McCaw (quad), lock Isaac Ross (knee) and hooker Keven Mealamu (calf) are untroubled by niggles that have affected them early this week.
Captain McCaw and No.8 Rodney So'oialo should be better for their hitouts against Australia following two-month injury-enforced breaks. Mealamu, Weepu and loose forward Kieran Read find themselves benched again despite superb showings last week.
South Africa: Francois Steyn (Sharks), JP Pietersen (Sharks), Jaque Fourie (Lions), Jean de Villiers (Stormers), Bryan Habana (Bulls), Ruan Pieenar (Sharks), Fourie du Preez (Bulls), Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks), Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks), John Smit (Sharks, capt), Bakkies Botha (Bulls), Victor Matfield (Bulls), Heinrich Brussouw (Cheetahs), Juan Smith (Cheetahs), Pierre Spies (Bulls)
Replacements: Chiliboy Ralepelle (Bulls), Jannie du Plessis (Sharks), Danie Rossouw (Bulls), Ryan Kankowski (Sharks), Ricky Januarie (Stormers), Morne Steyn (Bulls), Wynand Olivier (Bulls)
New Zealand: Mils Muliaina (Chiefs); Joe Rokocoko (Blues), Conrad Smith (Hurricanes), Ma'a Nonu (Hurricanes), Sitiveni Sivivatu (Chiefs); Stephen Donald (Chiefs), Brendon Leonard (Chiefs); Tony Woodcock (Blues), Andrew Hore (Hurricanes), Neemia Tialata (Hurricanes), Brad Thorn (Crusaders), Isaac Ross (Crusaders), Jerome Kaino (Blues), Richie McCaw (Crusaders), Rodney So'oialo (Hurricanes)
Replacements: Keven Mealamu (Blues), Owen Franks (Crusaders), Jason Eaton (Hurricanes), Kieran Read (Crusaders), Piri Weepu (Crusaders), Luke McAlister (Blues), Cory Jane (Hurricanes)
Referee:Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assitant referees: N. Owens T. Hayes