MORNE Steyn is in the last chance saloon

Morne Steyn, the hero of the Lions series in 2009, is in the last chance saloon regarding his starting position at flyhalf going into the World Cup, Springbok coach Peter de Villiers hinted on the eve of tomorrow’s Tri-Nations match in the New Zealand capital.

The question of whether the Blue Bull is a boon for the Boks or a hand-break was first raised during last year’s November tour, and gathered momentum during the Bulls’ forgettable Super Rugby campaign when Steyn’s drop in form coincided with that of the defending champions.

At the heart of the Steyn debate is his (lack of) ability to engage his backline in earnest combat versus his brilliant goal-kicking skills

Steyn, who has ran all week at fullback in training, with Patrick Lambie at flyhalf, has been given a last-minute reprieve by De Villiers, and he continues at flyhalf although Lambie will assume some of the attacking duties.

“Sometimes tough decisions need to be made before a World Cup, and for Morne this could be the last chance, or the only chance, for him to get back the form that made him invincible in 2009,” the coach frankly said.

The fact that Steyn was made to tour – and not consigned to the “rehabilitation camp” in Rustenburg – was long ago confirmation that his position is under threat from 2007 World Cup winner Butch James, who is a member of the “Rustenburg 21.”

Steyn played more minutes of Super Rugby than any other South African.

“All of us go through patches in our lives, especially rugby players, and then they need people to give them a chance,” De Villiers said.

“One of his greatest (and unknown) attributes is his organisation skills within the team,” the coach said. “From early on in his time with the Boks he contributed significantly to the discussion of senior players regarding game plans. He has been a great youngster to have on board.”

As for James, De Villiers said: “Butch? He is old, eh? There is a time to come and a time to go …

“Ach, we will make those decisions (about flyhalf) in good time. I am not in a hurry, and there is still a Currie Cup to field players (such as James) and keep an eye on them,” he said.

Apart from the about-turn on Lambie starting at 10, and his subsequent selection at fullback (for his run-on debut), the Springbok team is as anticipated.

Lock Gerhard Mostert makes his debut; Adrian Jacobs is recalled to the midfield; Lambie is in for injured Gio Aplon; Jean Deysel is picked on the flank at the expense of Ashley Johnson, and the newcomer to the bench is winger Odwa Ndungane.

De Villiers conceded that this match is ultimately about players proving to him that they were worthy of a Springbok World cup campaign.

“We will have confirmation of which players are good enough to represent their country,” De Villiers said. “I don’t have favourites and I don’t have friends because they tend to let you down, as do players, but if the players understand that they can bring hope to their country by playing well, they should go to the World Cup and not stay at home.

Referee: Alain Rolland

Springboks: 15 Morne Steyn 14 Bjorn Basson 13 Adrian Jacobs 12 Juan de Jongh 11 Lwazi Mvovo 10 Patrick Lambie 9 Ruan Pienaar 8 Danie Rossouw 7 Deon Stegmann 6 Jean Deysel 5 Alistair Hargreaves 4 Gerhard Mostert 3 Werner Kruger 2 John Smit (capt) 1 Dean Greyling

Substitutes: Chiliboy Ralepelle, CJ van der linde, Ryan Kankowski, Ashley Johnson, Charl McLeod, Wynand Olivier, Odwa Ndungane

All Blacks: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Richie McCaw (capt), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Ali Williams, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Wyatt Crockett.

Substitutes: Corey Flynn, John Afoa, Jarrad Hoeata, Liam Messam, Piri Weepu, Colin Slade, Sonny Bill Williams.

The South African Rugby Union went on confrontational attack

The South African Rugby Union went on confrontational attack this morning as the best form of defence of the alleged Springbok training camp in Rustenburg that is running concurrently with the Tri-Nations tour to Australia and New Zealand.

In fact, CEO Jurie Roux angrily denied that there is a training camp at all, telling a packed media conference at the Springbok hotel in the New Zealand capital that it was merely a gathering of injured players who are being collectively rehabilitated.

Rouz, who was in Australia last week for broadcasting meetings and in New Zealand this week for a Sanzar conference, sat on the right of coach Peter de Villiers at the conference to announce the team and when the predictable first question was about the “Rustenburg 21”, he began a defence that was initially measured but by the end of the conference had developed into full-scale attack, which culminated thus: “I am not denying that they are in Rustenburg, I am denying that there is a secret training camp. I have got my players in a single high performance entity being rehabilitated,” he said. “That is it, but you (the kiwi media) want me to say that I am running a separate Springbok team and have sent a B team here.

“Well, I would like to cut the cast off Schalk Burger’s finger, I would like Andries Bekker to not need an operation, I would like all of them to be uninjured, but they are injured and being rehabilitated, so what do you want me to do? I am not a miracle worker,” he exclaimed.

Roux, a Stellenbosch accountant by trade, then raised eyebrows with his response to a local reporter who said he had merely been seeking clarification of what was going on.

“It is a unique thing to me that people are worried about this at all. I run a multi-million rand corporation where my biggest asset is my players. I need to do something to get them all ready for the World Cup and that means the best medical attention in the best environment for the injured.

“This is a simple thing and if I was not doing it, I would need to come to New Zealand to look for a job, which is the last thing I want to do,” he said.

A cocker-hoop De Villiers gleefully added: “And I won’t come with you!”

Roux concluded: “What do you with injured players? You don’t send them to Bali or Mauritius to have a holiday, you put them into a high performance centre to get the best possible rehabilitation – I don’t understand the confusion and why there is this conspiracy theory.”

It was pointed out to the CEO that the “training camp” stories emanated from South Africa not New Zealand.

“That is perception and confusion coming from the media, and you can’t believe everything you hear in the media,” Roux said.

It was just about forgotten that Roux was there to announce the Springbok team.

The only surprise was that Morne Steyn was named at 10 and not 15, where he has run this week with Patrick Lambie doing the duties at 10. Oh well maybe it is all part of a cunning plan and Lambie will in fact do most of the attacking from flyhalf and Steyn and his boot will be there for the defence.

The expected changes see Gerhard Mostert making his debut for injured Flip van der Merwe; flank Jean Deysel coming in for axed Ashley Johnson, with Danie Rossouw moving to No 8.

In a tactical switch in the centres, Juan de Jongh moves to No 12 and Adi Jacobs starts at outside centre with Wynand Olivier dropping to the bench.

Lambie replaces injured Gio Aplon and Odwa Ndungane is promoted to the bench.

Springboks: 15 Morne Steyn 14 Bjorn Basson 13 Adrian Jacobs 12 Juan de Jongh 11 Lwazi Mvovo 10 Patrick Lambie 9 Ruan Pienaar 8 Danie Rossouw 7 Deon Stegmann 6 Jean Deysel 5 Alistair Hargreaves 4 Gerhard Mostert 3 Werner Kruger 2 John Smit (capt) 1 Dean Greyling

Substitutes: Chiliboy Ralepelle, CJ van der linde, Ryan Kankowski, Ashley Johnson, Charl McLeod, Wynand Olivier, Odwa Ndungane.

This is more of a phoney war

Never mind calling it the Tri-Nations, as far as the Springboks are concerned, this is more of a phoney war they are waging in Sydney and Wellington. Actually it is more of a pantomime considering the real Springboks are in a training camp in Rustenburg, most of them not injured at all, while a plainly second-string side is being outclassed overseas.

The work-hard play-hard jol going on in Rustenburg is being denied, as is the fact that this Springbok squad is mostly back-up players and few of them have a chance of making the World Cup squad of 30.

One wonders how veterans such as John Smit and Danie Rossouw feel about slogging it out in the Antoipodes, knowing that they are going to get pumped, putting on brave faces and trying to get the most out of players that are either the future Springboks stars or just plain also-rans, while their old mates are in camp with amongst others, technical analyst Rassie Erasmus and kicking coach Percy Montgomery.

Just as they all were in 2007. The blue print of that World Cup year is being followed in 2011 with the difference that this time it is being attempted under a veil of secrecy. Issues are skirted or denied, probably because the South African Rugby Union felt the wrath of SANZAR in 2007 for devaluing the Tri-Nations and was ordered to do no such thing again.

But everybody knows what is really going on here. The world is too small these days for things to happen quietly behind doors with nobody picking it up. If 21 or so Boks are at a Rustenburg retreat (the place where England stayed during the soccer World Cup) it is going to be tweeted and face-booked sooner rather than later. In a mattter of minutes the whole world knows.

When the Boks arrived at Wellington airport yesterday they were ambushed by the Kiwi media, and all they wanted to know about was the “secret camp”. The Boks had been sped through arrivals so by the time the travelling South African media came through customs, it was all over bar the reprisals to come in the local media.

One local website hours later quoted De Villiers saying this at the airport regarding so-called injured players: “So-called is not the right word to use, they’re injured,” de Villiers said. “We know that the long Super 15 season is the cause of this and we just have to abide by that. They’re not training. It (reports that they are) doesn’t surprise me because there’s always mischief everywhere.”

Oh dear, here we go again, I have a feeling this story is going to run for some time … probably until the Tri-Nations is over and the real rugby business of 2011 begins.

The thing is, there are just 43 days to the first World Cup game, and by the time New Zealand kick it all off with their match against Tonga on September 9, the Springbok shenanigans will have been forgotten.

Just as the results in Sydney and Wellington won’t matter quite so much to Springbok supporters if the Boks once again go all the way.

It is about short term pain and long term gain, but it is also about cheapening the Springbok jersey for a fortnight or so and there are purists who contend that this should never happen. If the Boks cop 50 from the All Blacks on Saturday, I will be among those who wonder if it is worth it.

by Mike Greenaway

Peter de Villiers and captain John Smit in a grilling in Wellington

The Springboks were left under no illusions that they are in ultimate rugby country when they walked into the arrivals hall at the Wellington airport yesterday – and straight into a barrage of TV crews and reporters who gave coach Peter de Villiers and captain John Smit a grilling over the composition of the tour squad.

When the Boks arrived in Sydney a week and half ago, there was zero media interest at the airport, but New Zealand is another rugby animal altogether. Smit and De Villiers sidestepped the predictable questions with relative ease although Smit had to tread carefully around the hot topic of “injured” A list Springboks currently being in a training camp in Rustenburg under the watchful eye of new technical analyst Rassie Erasmus.

“I really can’t comment on what is going on back in South Africa,” Smit said. “I have been on tour for a while. I would have been to there to know what is happening.”

While the under-strength Boks have been heavily criticised for failing to live up to their pre-match talk in Sydney, they appear to be undaunted in the face of an even sterner challenge on Saturday.

At least that is the how it appears on the surface.

Young buck Lwazi Mvovo went as far as to proclaim that the plan is to emulate the feat of the 2008 Tri-Nations Springboks, who won in Dunedin.

“That year the guys had a bad defeat here in Wellington but picked themselves up to win the following week at Carisbrooke,” said the winger, who was one of the better performing Boks in the loss to the Wallabies.

“That is the goal – to beat the All Blacks. We have learned a lot from the first game, we are wiser for the experience and we want to do our country proud after the disappointment of last week,” he said.

“It is not going to be easy against the All Blacks but we are once bitten twice shy after turning over so much possession against the Wallabies. We lost the breakdown battle, and we know the All Blacks pride themselves on how they play in that area, so obviously we are focussing heavily on taking them on there.”

Like a number of the other Boks, Mvovo will be facing the haka for the first time but he says the youngsters will not let it distract them.

“We will accept their challenge, but it is also a time when we have to keep concentration. We must not let the opposition get off to a good start for the second week in a row,” Mvovo said. “We were slow out of the blocks last week and very nervous. If more of us could have got our hands on the ball earlier in the game, we might have settled quicker.

“The thing is, we are all humans, the All Blacks, too! We just have to bring our A game from the first whistle – then we will be fine. ”

The All Blacks, meanwhile, seemed to have settled on their starting line-up, according to the local press.

And despite resting a number of Crusaders players, it is an ever formidable combination. And While all-action hero Sonny Bill Williams is not likely to start he is set to come on the second half to team up with local star Ma’a Nonu, which will mean a massive midfield.

All Blacks (probable): 15 Mils Muliaina 14 Cory Jane 13 Conrad Smith 12 Ma’a Nonu 11 Zac Guildford 10 Dan Carter 9 Jimmy Cowan 8 Richie McCaw (capt) 7 Adam Thomson 6 Jerome Kaino 5 Sam Whitelock 4 Ali Williams 3 Ben Franks 2 Andrew Hore 1 Wyatt Crockett

by Mike Greenaway

The depleted Springbok squad moves on to Wellington.

Gio Aplon and Flip van der Merwe will fly home to South African tomorrow morning at just about the same time as the depleted Springbok squad moves on to Wellington for Saturday’s Tri-Nations Test against New Zealand, and this will mean a first start in a Bok jersey for Patrick Lambie and a debut for Gerhard Mostert.

The 2m tall, 125kg Mostert, who only joined the squad yesterday from Paris after being summoned from his new club Stade Francais, will do a straight swap in the second row with Van der Merwe, who has a rib cartilage injury, but Lambie’s introduction could be more complex.

It is conceivable that he and Morne Steyn will switch between fullback and flyhalf, with Lambie taking on more of the attacking duties – he was effective in that role when he replaced Steyn at the three-quarter mark of the 39-20 defeat to the Wallabies at the weekend. The Boks scored two tries in the final quarter and looked far more threatening with Lambie at the helm.

Aplon picked up a shoulder injury early in the match and later took a blow to the lower back, but it is the shoulder problem that has ruled him out.

“At an absolute push we could maybe have patched Gio up to play but this would not be fair on him,” said coach Peter de Villiers. “There is a World Cup coming up and if he aggravated his problem by playing this weekend, it might rule him out of contention. We must be sensible now – Gio is not the biggest guy and we must look after him.”

Lambie played off the bench in all four Tests of last year’s November tour, and was again a substitute last week.

De Villiers said that Van der Merwe’s injury is a concern, especially coming so soon after Andries Bekker was ruled out of the World Cup.

“Popping your rib cartilage is one of the most painful injuries in rugby and once it has happened, it tends to recur. So it is probably not looking too good for Flip for the home leg (of the Tri-Nations) in that he should be given as much time as possible to heal,” the coach said.

The situation regarding Alistair Hargreaves is much rosier. His abdominal muscle injury is not as bad as first thought and De Villiers says he should be fit to resume in the second row against the All Blacks on Saturday.

It would have been a major setback for the Boks had Hargreaves been unable to play this weekend because he has taken on the job of running the line-outs from veteran Johann Muller, who flew home on Sunday with a hamstring injury.

With Hargreaves and Mostert forming the lock pairing, it frees Danie Rossouw to continue at loose forward (he moved to lock when Van der Merwe left the field injured). Rossouw could well move to No 8 for Ashley Johnson with Jean Deysel coming into the side on the flank.

Apart from the physical injuries, De Villiers said he had a big task this week in ensuring the players go to New Zealand with the belief that they can beat the All Blacks.

“We believed we could beat the Wallabies, but the guys did not realise that there is about a 30 percent step up from provincial to Test rugby,” he said. “So there was a wake-up call and now let’s see how they react now that they are wiser.”

BY Mike Greenaway

The Springboks are discovering that when it rains in New South Wales it downright pours.

The Springboks are discovering that when it rains in New South Wales it downright pours. The weather is almost always sunny in winter here but 80mm have fallen over the last few days and this July is already the wettest since 1950 and the second wettest since 1858!

Neither team was allowed to have a captain’s run on the sodden Olympic Stadium pitch yesterday because the Parramatta – Canterbury rugby league match was being played there last night. No guesses as which sport takes priority here and one can only imagine the state of the surface after that match!

The good news is that the rain is predicted to ease off by lunch time today but the pitch will remain waterlogged.

A notable casualty of the wretched weather is the Wallabies’ key playmaker, Quade Cooper, who spent yesterday in bed with the flu and gastro, and all of Oz was holding thumbs he would be alright by kick-off at 8pm local time.

If he cannot play, it is likely that fullback Kurtley Beale will be moved up to flyhalf.

Springbok captain John Smit yesterday said that having to play with a slippery ball was a pity in the short term – his team’s original plan was to run the ball – but a useful exercise in the long run.

“I can’t recall a Super Rugby game played in Australia or South Africa in the rain this year but we are likely to get a lot of it in New Zealand in the World Cup, so playing the conditions today will be insightful because whoever gets their plan right today will probably win.”

Key to the wet weather strategy is flyhalf Morne Steyn, who was a curious inclusion in the tour squad given that most of the front-line Boks were left at home to recover from “injuries”, and Steyn played more Super Rugby minutes than any other South African.

It is clear that Steyn is under pressure from RWC 2007 flyhalf Butch James, who is one of the players at home in cotton wool.

In answering a question as to Steyn’s usefulness in the wet with his educated boot, Smit said: “Morne has kicked some big points for us in recent years to win us vital Test matches, and is brilliant with kicking out-of-hand. We are very fortunate to have him. But I think he will be looking to do more than kick on this tour. He will want to show that he can get our backs going. We have very fast wings and they need to get the ball. We also need Morne to be a good link between forwards and backs.”

And as much as Smit would like to see his youthful backline having a go, he wants to see the lethal Aussie backline operation shut down.

Will Genia, Cooper, Adam Ashley-Cooper, James’ O’Connor, Digby Ioane and Beale are all devastating runners, and Smit has warned his team to starve the Aussie backs of the ball or pay the price.

“The Wallabies are packed with huge threats. There is a lot of X-factor, a lot of magic in that backline of theirs and you can be sure they wanted a sunny day and fast pitch so they could try and run us off our feet.

“How do we contain them? We try not to give then the ball,” Smit said. “The instruction is ‘if we have possession keep it!’ The worst thing to do against the Wallabies is to turn over ball in the wrong places, allowing them to play off the cuff when we have no structure in defence. So a lot of it will be about composure, and that comes with experience, and we don’t have a lot of that, so we have to be very accurate in our first phases and in our organisation on defence.”

Referee: Chris Pollock (NZ)

Springboks: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Lwazi Mvovo, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Ashley Johnson, 7 Danie Rossouw 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 John Smit (capt), 1 Dean Greyling.

Substitutes: Chiliboy Ralepelle, CJ van der Linde, Ryan Kankowski, Jean Deysel, Charl McLeod, Patrick Lambie, Adi Jacobs.

Wallabies: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 James O’Connor, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom (capt), 5 James Horwill, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sekope Kepu.

Substitutes: Saia Faingaa, Pekahou Cowan, Nathan Sharpe, Matt Hodgson, Scott Higginbotham, Nick Phipps, Anthony Faingaa

Kick-off: 12 noon

by Mike Greenaway in Sydney

The Springbok heavyweights will return for the home tests

MIKE GREENAWAY IN Sydney

This time four years ago, John Smit and his band of “injured” Springboks watched Bob Skinstad’s dirt-trackers give the Wallabies the scare of their lives, and the watching Boks got a little sweaty themselves.

“We had a braai at Schalk Burger’s wine farm (the squad was in Cape Town for a training camp) and when our guys went 17-0 up, a lot of the guys went very quiet…,” Smit said this morning at his captain’s press conference at the Intercontinental Hotel at Sydney Harbour.

“A lot of guys put their hands up on that 2007 tour, and that is what the coach wants in 2011,” Smit continued. “These four Tri-Nations games are part of the World Cup puzzle and you want to find our everything you can about the players that will make up that 30-man squad. It is not just about how well you play, it is also about the overall chemistry of the squad – how the different personal combine to give you harmony, so yes, there is huge amount for every guy on this tour to play for.”

The Springbok heavyweights will return for the home tests in Durban (Australia) and Port Elizabeth (New Zealand) and when The Tri-Nations is over, the Boks will have a good idea of where they stand ahead of the World Cup, Smit said.

“Besides winning the games, it is important to get some measure of confidence and momentum going,” he said. “You want combinations to get functioning, you want selection headaches and healthy competition between the guys. You want to go to the World Cup with good options.”

Winning tomorrow’s test match, though, is the primary focus and Smit says leading a young team to a win in Sydney would mean a lot to him personally.

“When we came into land in Sydney it dawned on me that this will be last my match in Australia,” he said. “It is an emotional time for me because I am at that stage where there is only a handful of Tests that I can be contention for, so I really am approaching and preparing for each one as if it was my last.

“For me, it is about leaving everything out there on the pitch and not worrying about next week or even next year.”

Unfortunately, the weather is set to ruin the running game that both teams wanted to play.

“I can’t recall seeing so much rain. This week, at the age of 33 I went out and bought my first ever umbrella,” Smit said. “And it hardly ever happens that you can’t have your captain’s run on the eve of a Test because the ground is too water-logged. We also had to move a session into a school hall.”

But Smit said the rain had not disrupted the team’s preparations.

“We will not use the rain as an excuse. We have been preparing for this match for the last three weeks. It helped us not having a team in the Super Rugby final. We were done and dusted with preparations before we got on the plane, and then we had good weather here on Monday and Tuesday to fine tune, so the weather hasn’t really disrupted us.”

The Boks are fortunate to have accomplished field kickers in Ruan Pienaar and Morne Steyn, and Smit admits that their kicking contest with Will Genia and Quade Cooper could decide the match.

“Unfortunately the rain will mean significantly more kicking for the halfbacks. Ruan has kicked a lot in the wet at Ulster and we know Morne is one of the best kickers in the world, but then Genia and Cooper kicked more than any other halfbacks in Super Rugby and their team won, so they must be pretty good at it!”

Referee: Chris Pollock (NZ)

Springboks: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Lwazi Mvovo, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Ashley Johnson, 7 Danie Rossouw 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 John Smit (capt), 1 Dean Greyling.

Substitutes: Chiliboy Ralepelle, CJ van der Linde, Ryan Kankowski, Jean Deysel, Charl McLeod, Patrick Lambie, Adi Jacobs.

Wallabies: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 James O’Connor, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom (capt), 5 James Horwill, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sekope Kepu.

Substitutes: Saia Faingaa, Pekahou Cowan, Nathan Sharpe, Matt Hodgson, Scott Higginbotham, Nick Phipps, Anthony Faingaa

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