SPRINGBOK coach Peter de Villiers has backed up what he said earlier in the week by selecting a team that emphatically underlines his contention that he does not blame the players for the two home Tri-Nations defeats.
There are just two changes to the team that went down 27-15 against Australia in Durban last week for the final match in the competition against the same opponents at Coca-Cola Park in Johannesburg tomorrow.
Odwa Ndungane of the Sharks returns to the side for the first time since the opening Tri-Nations clash against New Zealand in Wellington in July. He replaces the injured JP Pietersen, who has played in every test match since then, starting with the win against the All Blacks in Dunedin.
The other change comes in the front row, where Zimbabwean-born Brian Mujati replaces the suspended CJ van der Linde at tighthead prop. Fortunately for De Villiers, hooker Bismarck du Plessis has been cleared to play while Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira has also recovered from the contusion that prevented him from training with the team earlier in the week. That means changes to the pack have been kept to a minimum, whereas earlier in the week it seemed the Boks might be severely depleted in this area. The surprise upfront would have been the continuation of the Andries Bekker/Danie Rossouw second-row partnership.
Bekker has been in good form in the matches where he has started as Victor Matfield’s partner, but there are questions about the balance of the lock pairing in the absence of the aggressive driving style of Bakkies Botha. With Danie Rossouw, a player in the Botha mould, now fit, it was anticipated he might be returned to the starting team.
He is on the bench, where Joe van Niekerk’s omission is startling. Many would have thought the Lions No 8 would be returned to the starting team in place of the struggling Pierre Spies. After impressing in two overseas games where he was a surprise inclusion, Van Nekerk has been on the outside ever since.
Perhaps the area where the Wallabies will focus most of their attention though is the back three, where the absence of Bryan Habana, who lost his race against time to recover from a hamstring injury, will be felt.
In light of the void that has been left at the back in terms of experience, it might have been anticipated that Percy Mongtomery would be restored to the back three, perhaps with Conrad Jantjes moving to right wing.
Although De Villiers spoke a lot at the press conference about how South Africa had followed the Australian structured approach immediately after isolation, something that the coaches and the players of that era would be surprised to hear, and that he was busy breaking this approach down, the indications are that the Boks will be looking to play controlled rugby at Coca-Cola Park.
Frans Steyn was concussed when he played as a replacement last week which explains why Ruan Pienaar has finally found a place on the bench.
Springbok team: 15. Conrad Jantjes 14. Odwa Ndungane 13. Adrian Jacobs 12. Jean de Villiers 11. Jongi Nokwe 10. Butch James 9. Fourie du Preez 8. Pierre Spies 7. Juan Smith 6. Schalk Burger 5. Victor Matfield (capt) 4. Andries Bekker 3. Brian Mujati 2. Bismarck du Plessis 1. Tendai Mtawarira.
Reserves: Adriaan Strauss, Jannie du Plessis, Danie Rossouw, Luke Watson, Ricky Januarie, Ruan Pienaar, Percy Montgomery. —— Supersport