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Stephen Nell | Columnist Index
Stephen Nell is a rugby writer based in Cape Town and works primarily for the Die Burger newspaper. He has been contributing to ESPNscrum since 2005.
Springboks confident of securing Tri Nations glory
Stephen Nell
June 24, 2008

"The Boks have spoken optimistically about South Africa's chances of beating the All Blacks in New Zealand for the first time since 1998." Stephen Nell reports

Will Springbok coach Peter de Villiers's decision to axe Ulster-bound prop BJ Botha from his 28-man touring squad for the Tri-Nations come back to haunt him?

That is the big question as the Boks geared this week for the away leg of the Tri-Nations with serious question marks about their scrum following successful home tests against Wales and Italy.

The Bok lineout functioned as well as ever, but it was only in the second test against Wales, in which Botha ironically played, where they were able to match their opponents in the scrums.

It is the most worrying aspect before the Boks play the All Blacks on 5 and 12 July in Wellington and Dunedin respectively.

Even so, the Boks themselves and experts have spoken optimistically about South Africa's chances of beating the All Blacks in New Zealand for the first time since 1998.

Italian coach Nick Mallett, under whom the Boks last achieved the feat at Athletic Park in Wellington, reckons South Africa have the ability to win in New Zealand.

He was backed in this statement by Stormers coach Rassie Erasmus, who pointed out the All Blacks' injuries and an exodus of players to the Northern Hemisphere having eroded their experienced spine.

However, as Mallett said, the combinations De Villiers picks will be crucial.

Botha's omission was a shock. Another surprise, although certainly not as big, was leaving out pacy Stormers wing Tonderai Chavhanga. He was, however, an under-achiever against Wales and the Bok selectors have been able to fall back on World Cup player JP Pietersen.

Skipper John Smit will be a late arrival in New Zealand due to him having to complete club commitments in France. In Botha's absence, he is likely to make up the front row with the versatile CJ van der Linde and Gurthrö Steenkamp.

The one area where South Africa will feel they can take on the All Blacks is in the lineouts, where Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield will continue their partnership.

Schalk Burger is also fit and will enjoy having a crack at the All Blacks without having to compete against their injured captain, Richie McCaw.

South Africa don't have scrumhalf Fourie du Preez available due to injury, but on form Ricky Januarie was the best available player in the Super14.

Frans Steyn did little to impress at flyhalf against Italy other than offer a few flashes of individual brilliance, which means Butch James is likely to play there against the All Blacks.

The big question is whether De Villiers will opt for the physicality of Steyn or the deftness of touch of Adrian Jacobs at outside centre.

Percy Montgomery is also back in the squad and is the lone surviving member of the team that won there in 1998. Whether he will start in the first test in Wellington is another question as Conrad Jantjes did duty at the back against Wales and Italy.

However, De Villiers has the option of picking a very experienced side, which leads one to think that just maybe this Bok side could have the beating of the Kiwis in their back yard for the first time in just over a decade.

The draw is tough on South Africa, with a mental and energy-sapping tour of New Zealand first up. After the two games in Wellington and Dunedin, they fly to Perth for a test against Australia.

Thereafter follows the home leg, with the benefit of two home games against the Wallabies and a clash with the All Blacks at Newlands.

Much, therefore, could rest on the Boks sneaking just one victory against the All Blacks on tour. They very seldom lose to the Wallabies on home soil, which means a measure of success overseas could set them up nicely for the home stretch.

De Villiers has spoken positively about the possibility of achieving a feat in New Zealand that eluded even previous Bok coach Jake White.

However, as Mallett said, the trick is backing the words up with action.
On paper the Boks appear to have as good a chance as ever, but nobody would be so foolish as to write the All Blacks off.

The Springbok tour squad is:

Backs: Bolla Conradie, Jean de Villiers, Peter Grant, Butch James, Conrad Jantjes, Adrian Jacobs, Ricky Januarie, Bryan Habana, Percy Montgomery, Odwa Ndungane, JP Pietersen, Ruan Pienaar, Francois Steyn.

Forwards: Andries Bekker, Bakkies Botha, Schalk Burger, Bismarck du Plessis, Ryan Kankowski, Beast Mtawarira, Brian Mujati, Victor Matfield, Pierre Spies, Juan Smith, John Smit (captain), Gurthrö Steenkamp, CJ van der Linde, Joe van Niekerk, Luke Watson.

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