Smit set to join exclusive club
August 17, 2010
Springboks skipper John Smit is set for his latest career milestone on Saturday © Getty Images
South Africa captain John Smit is set to become the latest Test rugby centurion when he leads his side out against New Zealand in Johannesburg on Saturday.
The Springboks' hooker will become the 15th player to rack up 100 international appearances as his side look to return to winning ways in this year's Tri-Nations.
Coach Peter de Villiers has made a total of seven changes to the side beaten by Australia last month with lock Flip van der Merwe handed his first Test start in the place of Danie Rossouw who is struggling with a hip injury and deemed only fit enough for a place on the bench.
Elsewhere, Francois Hougaard is set for just his third cap after being named at scrum-half in the absence of the injured Ruan Pienaar. Gio Aplon is switched from wing to fullback with Zane Kirchner another to succumb to injury and that move sees JP Pietersen back on the wing. A new midfield combination of Jean de Villiers and Juan de Jongh gets the nod ahead of Wynand Olivier and Jaque Fourie respectively while prop BJ Botha and flanker Ryan Kankowski are ousted by Jannie du Plessis and Juan Smith.
Speaking about the selection of Hougaard, a player that has played most of the season on the wing for the Bulls, De Villiers said, "He is a player you can take to war. He has a strong head and a good rugby brain and we're looking for someone to bring something extra to the team. I'm excited to see him trying to cement his place in the starting team."
Veteran lock Victor Matfield also paid tribute to his skipper, adding, "I think it's a great achievement for John, who is a guy everyone in SA looks up to. John would like to focus on the game and win it, then we can enjoy it afterwards which will make the occasion even more special for him. We're looking forward to the match. It will be a massive occasion before the biggest crowd we have played in front of. But to win it is the main objective."
New Zealand have drafted Jimmy Cowan and Ben Franks into their starting XV to face the Springboks at the 90,000 capacity stadium previously known as Soccer City.
Cowan sat out New Zealand's last match, the 20-10 win over Australia in Christchurch on August 7, with a rib injury, but his recovery sees Piri Weepu shift to the bench. It will be Ben Franks' third Test start, while his brother drops out of the line-up, with John Afoa moving to the bench. In another bench change, coach Graham Henry and assistant coaches Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith have brought in Israel Dagg to provide outside back cover.
The All Blacks are attempting to wrap up their 10th Tri-Nations crown, with one competition point needed to secure the title. Henry said the team expected to face a "very different" Springboks side from the one that lost two matches in New Zealand in the opening rounds of the Tri-Nations.
"They will be hugely motivated to turn around those results and we are expecting a hugely physical encounter," he said. "Playing the Springboks in Soweto in front of 90,000 plus fans -- it doesn't get much bigger than this. It's going to be a marvellous occasion, a massive challenge and one which the team is really looking forward to."
Hooker Keven Mealamu will join former All Blacks lock Ian Jones as the joint fifth-most capped All Black on Saturday, while Daniel Carter could become New Zealand's highest points scorer against South Africa. He is currently sitting on 207 points, two behind former first five-eighth Andrew Mehrtens. Joe Rokocoko is one try from equalling former All Blacks fullback Christian Cullen's record of 10 tries scored against South Africa.
South Africa: G Aplon (Stormers); JP Pietersen (Sharks), J de Jongh (Stormers), J de Villiers (Stormers), B Habana (Stormers); M Steyn (Bulls), Francois Hougaard (Bulls); G Steenkamp (Bulls), J Smit (Sharks), J du Plessis (Sharks), F van der Merwe (Bulls), V Matfield (Bulls), S Burger (Stormers), J Smith (Cheetahs), P Spies (Bulls).
Replacements: C Ralepelle (Bulls), CJ van der Linde (Cheetahs), D Rossouw (Bulls), F Louw (Stormers), R Januarie (Stormers), B James (Bath), W Olivier (Bulls).
New Zealand: M Muliaina (Waikato); C Jane (Wellington), C Smith (Wellington), M Nonu (Wellington), J Rokocoko (Auckland); D Carter (Canterbury), J Cowan (Southland); T Woodcock (North Harbour), K Mealamu (Auckland), B Franks (Tasman), B Thorn (Canterbury), T Donnelly (Otago), J Kaino (Auckland), R McCaw (Canterbury), K Read (Canterbury).
Replacements: P Weepu (Wellington), A Cruden (Manawatu), I Dagg (Hawke's Bay), C Flynn (Canterbury), J Afoa (Auckland), S Whitelock (Canterbury), V Vito (Wellington).
Referee: N. Owens (Wal)
Assistant referees: A. Rolland (Ire), S. McDowell (Ire)