All Black Ma’a Nonu wary of Springboks’ midfield ahead of Ellis Park test

All Blacks No 12 Ma’a Nonu is expecting a stiff challenge from the raw Springboks midfield duo.

Ma’a Nonu isn’t listening to any chatter about the inexperienced Springboks midfield being easily fractured.

Nonu, who partners-up with Conrad Smith in the All Blacks’ midfield at Ellis Park on Saturday, is preparing for his last match on South African soil.

After the World Cup Nonu will link with French club Toulon but with the likes of Sonny Bill Williams challenging for the No 12 jersey, his immediate priority is to anchor a place in the All Blacks’ starting side ahead of the global tournament.

The vastly experienced Nonu and Smith will face a raw Springboks midfield in Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel at Ellis Park.

When it was put to Nonu that de Allende’s defensive technique, which one statistic provider has reported has resulted in him missing 30 tackles in Super Rugby, was suspect he lodged a counterclaim.

“That’s a surprising stat because I have seen him tackle,” Nonu said. “When we (the Hurricanes) played the Stormers this year we did a lot of analysis around the No 12 and he was the main ball carrier.

“I don’t agree with that stat. Hence why he is playing for South Africa at No 12. We better measure up and be prepared.”

While Nonu and Smith have played 180 tests, de Allende and Kriel have earned just five caps.

This will also be Smith’s final game in the Republic. It is also his first test appearance this year, having been rested from the opening matches against Samoa and Argentina.

Williams, like playmaker Dan Carter, was told to rest rather than fly to South Africa after forming a physically intimidating 12-13 partnership with Nonu in the 39-18 win over Argentina last weekend.

Nonu started at centre against the Pumas, and after some early handling errors he scored a fine individual try by bursting through four defenders.

The Springboks, who lost another player when experienced right wing JP Pietersen withdrew with a hamstring complaint this week, will again field Handre Pollard, 21, at first five-eighth.

Coach Heyneke Meyer will be hoping Pollard can forge a partnership with de Allende, 23, and Kriel, 21.

Nonu said the All Blacks can do all the analysis they want on the Springboks, but it was crucial they immediately react when confronted with the unexpected.

“We never assume stuff. There is so much analysis we can do on a team but players really react on their instincts.

“We can look at all the clips of how their backline is going to play but from nine to 15 they are pretty dangerous.”

Asked what was the toughest midfield he had encountered in his 95-test career, Nonu nominated Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie.

“I remember vividly in 2009 when we played the South Africans in Durban and Bloemfontein and we lost those matches.

“We played them again in the third test in Hamilton (and lost) and that’s the pair I remember being the toughest I have come up against.”

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Lima Sopoaga and James Broadhurst will make their test debuts against the Springboks in Johannesburg on Sat

First five-eighth Sopoaga and lock Broadhurst are the only two newcomers in an All Blacks side that still doesn’t include left wing Julian Savea because Steve Hansen wants him to improve his fitness before unleashing him against the Wallabies.

Sopoaga, 24, will travel to Ellis Park in the knowledge he is surrounded by familiar faces; halfback Aaron Smith plays with him at the Highlanders and Sopoaga was a team-mate of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith when he lived in Wellington.

ANDREW CORNAGA/PHOTOSPORT
Aaron Smith and Lima Sopoaga embrace in celebration after winning the Super Rugby title for the Highlanders.

“He’s someone we are comfortable with and confident he can run the cutter and be the driver we need him to be,” All Blacks coach Hansen said in reference to Sopoaga, who plays his provincial rugby with Southland.

“He plays up in the line, he is flat and he challenges the opposition. He has done that all season with the Highlanders. That’s all we expect him to do, just bring that form to this team and look after his role.”

Broadhurst, 27, will contest the lineouts against a Springboks pack missing aerial ace Victor Matfield, but with plenty of height in Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth.

“He’s had a pretty good season and it is a step-up physically – he is probably not going to get too many more bigger challenges from a physical point of view,” Hansen said.

“So he’s got to be right in the heart of it. The tight five is where test matches are won.”

A total of eight positional changes have been made to the side that started in the 39-18 victory over Argentina in Christchurch last Friday, with fullback Israel Dagg and left wing Charles Piutau the only men to keep their positions in the backline.

Ben Smith, who hasn’t played since co-captaining the Highlanders to victory over the Hurricanes in the Super Rugby final, has been named on the right wing – a vacancy left by the injured Waisake Naholo – to allow Dagg to make his third consecutive test start at the back.

Ma’a Nonu shuffles to his preferred No 12 role, which was filled by Sonny Bill Williams last week, so Hurricanes team-mate Conrad Smith can run at centre. Sopoaga replaces Dan Carter, who like Williams has been left at home.

Liam Messam gets an opportunity at blindside flanker in the absence of Jerome Kaino, who isn’t required for the match-day 23. Broadhurst replaces Sam Whitelock and Dane Coles will make his first start of the year to give hooker Keven Mealamu a break.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said the plan was always to play Sopoaga at No 10 against the Springboks. Beauden Barrett, who has yet to represent the All Blacks this year, has been listed on the bench ahead of Colin Slade.

With just three matches left to give all 41 members of his squad an opportunity to play their way into the 31-man World Cup squad, Hansen and his selectors have had to put their trust in the uncapped players.

“A lot of thought went into it and once again it’s a juggling act isn’t it? You have to have the right amount of experience, but you also have got to find out if the young people in your group can cope with the pressure,” Hansen said.

“There’s no bigger game than this one. Ellis Park is a tough place to play and you will find out a lot about our athletes.”

AT A GLANCE

All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Charles Piutau, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, James Broadhurst, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Sam Whitelock, Victor Vito, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Malakai Fekitoa.stuff.co.nz

Eight changes and Heinrich Brüssow back for Springboks against New Zealand

The Springbok team to face New Zealand for the 90th time shows eight changes to the match-23 to that which did duty against Australia for the second match in the condensed Castle Lager Rugby Championship at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg on Saturday.

Heinrich Brüssow will make his first start for the Springboks since the 2011 Rugby World Cup, while Vincent Koch has been included on the bench for what could be his Test debut for South Africa.

Of the eight changes, three are to the pack and five are on the bench. The backline is unchanged. Schalk Burger will captain the team from No 8.

Francois Louw will start in the number seven jersey for the injured Marcell Coetzee in a positional change, with Brüssow assuming the openside role. The only other change to the starting line-up is at lock, where Lood de Jager takes over from Victor Matfield.

On the bench, Koch will be joined by Cornal Hendricks, Trevor Nyakane, Flip van der Merwe and Warren Whiteley, who could make his first Test appearance in South Africa, in front of his home crowd in Johannesburg.

“Injuries have forced our hand a bit, but we’ve stuck with our planned rotational policy on the bench and it will be great to see what Heinrich, Vincent and Flip can do,” said Meyer.

“The breakdown battle will again be huge and it will be good to see Heinrich and Francois play together. They are versatile players and I am convinced they will combine perfectly.

“Heinrich has been great this season before he got injured and played his way into contention. As with other players returning from injury in Vodacom Super Rugby, he deserves an opportunity. We decided it was better to start with him and use Warren as an impact player later in the match.

“It’s also great to see Flip back in the fold. We had a look at Pieter-Steph du Toit but he is not yet 100% match-ready, and Franco Mostert was also discussed but in the end we decided to go with Flip as he will add valuable experience to our bench.

“We planned to bring Trevor, Warren and Cornal back for this match. Trevor and Warren have been playing great rugby this season and Cornal is a superb finisher, as he’s shown so often last year.”

Meyer said that the Springboks faced a huge challenge on Saturday as they continue to build towards the Rugby World Cup against a fired-up Kiwi side.

“This will be a massive Test – every match against the All Blacks is,” said Meyer.

“We played some great rugby last weekend, but this week we have to put in an 80-minute effort. We have to be especially focused in the last 10 minutes, because New Zealand always finish strongly. They travelled here with us so that negates any advantage we could’ve had at the end of the match.

“The challenge will also be to make a step up in vital areas of the game and get back on the winning track. By not making too many changes this week, we’re giving some combinations the opportunity to settle a bit more. Our youngsters will have to put up their hands on Saturday – I would not have selected them if I didn’t believe they can do the job.”

The Springbok team to face New Zealand in Johannesburg is:

Position Name Franchise / Club Test Caps Test points
15 Willie le Roux Toyota Cheetahs 26 35
14 JP Pietersen Cell C Sharks 60 90
13 Jesse Kriel Vodacom Bulls 1 5
12 Damian de Allende DHL Stormers 4 0
11 Bryan Habana Toulon 107 285
10 Handré Pollard Vodacom Bulls 10 75
9 Ruan Pienaar (vice-captain) Ulster 81 135
8 Schalk Burger (captain) DHL Stormers 76 70
7 Francois Louw Bath 35 25
6 Heinrich Brüssow Toyota Cheetahs 20 5
5 Lood de Jager Toyota Cheetahs 10 10
4 Eben Etzebeth DHL Stormers 34 5
3 Jannie du Plessis Cell C Sharks 63 5
2 Bismarck du Plessis Cell C Sharks 71 45
1 Tendai Mtawarira Cell C Sharks 65 10
Replacements:
16 Adriaan Strauss Vodacom Bulls 45 25
17 Trevor Nyakane Vodacom Bulls 12 5
18 Vincent Koch DHL Stormers 0 0
19 Flip van der Merwe Vodacom Bulls 35 5
20 Warren Whiteley Emirates Lions 2 0
21 Cobus Reinach Cell C Sharks 7 10
22 Pat Lambie Cell C Sharks 41 106
23 Cornal Hendricks Toyota Cheetahs 11 25

Stats and facts:

· The Springbok starting team boasts a total of 663 Test caps (289 in the backline and 374 in the forwards), while there are a further 153 caps worth of experience on the bench.

· South Africa and New Zealand have played each other 89 times since 1921, with the Springboks winning 35, losing 51 and three were drawn. The Springboks have scored 1,392 points and 137 tries and conceded 1,718 points and 177 tries for an average score of 16-19.

· South Africa and New Zealand last met on 4 October 2015 at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg. The Springboks beat New Zealand by 27-25 thanks to a late 55 metre penalty from the boot of replacement flyhalf Patrick Lambie.

· Schalk Burger will become South Africa’s 55th Springbok captain in history.

· Bryan Habana will extend his own record as the most-capped Springbok wing, with 106 caps in this position. If he scores a try he will extend his own record of 57 Test tries for South Africa as well as most Test tries against New Zealand (7) and the Castle Lager Rugby Championship record of 18 tries.

· If he scores a try, Bismarck du Plessis will extend his record of nine Test tries for South Africa as a hooker. He will also extend his SA record of 40 Tests (22 in the starting line-up) with his brother Jannie and 17 Tests with Jannie and Tendai Mtawarira as the starting front row pairing for SA.

· If he goes on, Vincent Koch will become Springbok #868 in history.

· It will be Heyneke Meyer’s 39th Test in charge of the Springboks since he took over in 2012. Of the previous 38 Tests South Africa have won 26, lost ten and drew twice. He is third now on the all-time list with only Peter de Villiers (48) and Jake White (54) in front of him.

· The referee is Jerome Garces of France. It will be his fifth Test involving South Africa. Of the previous four South Africa have won three and lost one. His last appearance was in November 2014 against Italy in Padova when the Boks won 22-6.

· Springbok Test match records at Emirates Airline Park (Ellis Park) in Johannesburg:

o Most points: 28 by Gavin Johnson (3t, 5c,1p) against Samoa on 13 April, 1995
o Most tries: 4 by Chester Williams against Samoa on 10 June, 1995 and by Jongi Nokwe against Australia on 30 August, 2008
o Most conversions: 9 by Butch James against Argentina on 9 August, 2008
o Most penalty goals: 6 by Percy Montgomery against France on 16 June, 2001 and by Louis Koen against Scotland on 14 June, 2003
o Most drop goals: 2 by Joel Stransky against New Zealand on 24 June, 1995 and by Jannie de Beer against New Zealand on 19 July, 1997

Issued by SARU Corporate Affairs

Schalk Burger takes over as Springbok captain

Experienced loose forward Schalk Burger will become the 55th Springbok captain on Saturday when he leads South Africa out against New Zealand at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg.

The 32-year-old Burger has been named interim captain, in the absence of the injured Jean de Villiers and Victor Matfield. He assumes the captaincy from Matfield, who was ruled out of action in the short term after suffering a hamstring strain against Australia on Saturday.

“Schalk has been a magnificent servant of Springbok rugby and he fully deserves this responsibility,” said Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer on Tuesday.

“The resilience he’s shown in coming back from serious injury and illness is the kind of qualities I look for in players as well as teams I coach.

“In my eyes, the captaincy is very important and something I never take lightly or want to cheapen. Schalk’s character and the fact that he has been a role model for so many through the years made this an easy decision.

“He’s always led through example and has distinguished himself as one of the best leaders in South African rugby in the last decade. I’m very excited to see what he can bring in the absence of Jean and Victor.”

Burger has captained the DHL Stormers and DHL Western Province with distinction and will become the tenth most-capped Springbok on Saturday, winning his 77th cap, moving level with lock forward Mark Andrews.

He overcame serious injury and illness in 2014 to fight his way back into Springbok contention, recapturing the form that made him one of the most highly regarded loose forwards in world rugby.

He was named World Rugby Player of the Year (2004) and has twice been named the SA Rugby Player of the Year, in 2004 and 2011. He was a member of Rugby World Cup winning Springbok side in 2007 and played in the South African team that won the Under-21 World Cup in 2002.

His father, Schalk (Snr), played six Tests for South Africa between 1984 and 1986.

Burger, who made his Test debut at the Rugby World Cup in 2003, said he was humbled by the decision to name him captain.

“I’m a very proud man today, but at the same time I’m humbled by the faith the coach has shown in me,” said Burger, who also has 108 Vodacom Super Rugby caps for the DHL Stormers to his name.

“Ever since I first put on the Springbok jersey, my dream has been to represent my country with distinction and to make South Africans proud. It’s still sinking in that I will actually captain the Boks.

“This is an honour that is bestowed upon only a select few people and I will do whatever is needed for the team. With this position comes massive responsibility and I’m very excited for Saturday.”

Fact file

Full name: Schalk Willem Petrus Burger

Date and place of birth: 13 April 1983, Port Elizabeth

Height and weight: 1.93m and 110kg

Springbok number: 754

Test debut: 24 September, 2003 vs Georgia in Sydney

Total tests: 76

Test tries: 12 (the most by a Springbok flanker)

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Matfield, Coetzee doubtful New Zealand Test on Saturday at Ellis Park

Matfield, Coetzee doubtful New Zealand Test

Springbok captain Victor Matfield and flank Marcell Coetzee are both doubtful for the second Test in the Castle Lager Rugby Championship, on Saturday in Johannesburg against New Zealand.

Both players were forced to leave the field last Saturday against Australia – Matfield with a hamstring strain and Coetzee with a knock to his knee. According to Springbok team doctor Craig Roberts a call on their availability will only be made later in the week.

“Both are doubtful to play this weekend, but luckily neither of them are in doubt to miss the Rugby World Cup,” said Roberts.

“Jannie du Plessis and Schalk Burger also picked up knocks in Brisbane on Saturday and we will reassess them at our first training session of the week, on Tuesday. Apart from a lot of bumps and bruises, the rest of the squad should be fit for selection.”

The other injured players in the Springbok squad, Jean de Villiers, Fourie du Preez, Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts and Frans Steyn are not yet ready to be considered this weekend, Roberts added.

Pieter-Steph du Toit will join the squad in Johannesburg later on Monday and his progress will also be reassessed. With only three fit locks left in the squad, Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has decided to call up the experienced Flip van der Merwe.

“Flip is very experienced and can cover both lock positions, so it made sense to pro-actively assess our options and bring him in,” said Meyer.

“We’ve had a great discussion and he has made himself available to play for the Springboks, which I’m very grateful for. Flip has always put his body on the line for the Boks and it will be great to have him back in the fold.”

Commenting on De Villiers, Meyer said: “The plan was never for Jean to play against Australia and New Zealand and even though Victor and Schalk are injured, we’re not going to rush him back.

“If Victor can’t play on Saturday, we’ll make a call on the captaincy and announce it when the team is named on Wednesday.”

Jannie du Plessis and a Bok Preview for today against Australia kick off 12h05

There is a video spoof doing the rounds on social media titled “What Hitler thinks of the selection of Jannie du Plessis.” It is very amusing indeed, with Hitler ranting about what an (alleged) “has-been” the older du Plessis has become, but not so funny if you are Doctor Jannie or even his brother, Bismarck.

In fact, maybe the mocking video is just what the Boks need. A spitting-mad Bismarck alongside a brother who knows the pressure is on him – there is many an educated critic that has wondered the same thing as the “Hitler comics” regarding Jannie’s sell-by date – can only benefit a South African pack that has an enormous responsibility to prevent the lethal Wallabies backline from getting front-foot ball.

The 33-year-old Jannie clearly got the message some time ago because his performance against the World XV last week was by some margin his most energetic of the year. He threw himself around with reckless abandon, doubled his work rate and made more tackles in one game than in most of the Super Rugby season. Heck he often got accused by Bakkies Botha, one of the hardest forwards of them all, of having dealt him a “cheap shot” at a ruck, which put Botha off the field to have a gash to his head attended to.

But individual Bok performances have to be seen on the context of a game that was against a World XV who that week had met each other in the pub, thrashed out a game plan over a beer, and turned up and did the tackle bag duty their match fee required.

The negative attention shifted onto Bok veterans such as Sharks props Du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira comes mostly from the consistently good performances of the Stormers props, Frans Malherbe and Vincent Koch, and also from the newspaper headlines former Lions loosehead Heinke van der Merwe has been getting in Europe as the “best prop in France”, for his stand-out scrumming for Stade Francais, where he has been based after winning four caps for the Boks in 2007.

Another young turk on the bench tomorrow is the highly rated Cheetahs youngster Lood de Jager, who, along with Pieter-Steph du Toit, is lined up as a potential successor to Victor Matfield.

It is indeed a hungry Bok bench, packed with youngsters that have a point to prove to Heyneke Meyer. For one, Patrick Lambie, will not have given up the fight to prove he should be the starting 10 in England, and not the flyhalf/fullback/centre cover he is shaping up to be. Lambie’s Sharks partner, Cobus Reinach, will likewise be convinced that he should at least be the backup to Fourie du Preez, if not the starting scrumhalf, and not the No 3 he effectively is as the cover for tomorrow’s starting scrumhalf and vice captain, Ruan Pienaar, the 31-year-old Ulster-based former Shark.

The young Bok bench will pack a punch and their energy will certainly be needed after the starting veterans give their all in the first half against a highly combative Wallabies pack that can afford to have David Pocock on the bench.

Malherbe is mentioned in the Hitler spoof, but if he has seen it he is not going to comment, obviously, but he did say this yesterday: “There are a few of us fighting for a World Cup place. I did not play last week, but I must grab my chance tomorrow. I won’t be hanging back. There is an opportunity there for me to take and I will get stuck in.”

De Jager has huge potential and had a fine season in 2014 only to suffer an arm injury in the second round of this year’s Super Rugby.

‘I last played in early February. I am very hungry and can’t wait for my chance,” the 22-year-old said. “Every game is an opportunity for a youngster like me. It is flattering that I am currently next in line to a legend in Victor Matfield. He is the best lineout forward there has ever been. I won’t say I can be a Victor, but I want to be the best Lood de Jager can be, and I want to play for the Boks for a very long time. I want those caps to pile up.”

Referee: Nigel Owens

Wallabies: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 James Slipper.

Subs: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 James Horwill, 20 David Pocock, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Drew Mitchell.

Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.

Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Heinke van der Merwe, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Oupa Mohoje, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.

By Mike Greenaway

Mighty McCaw and his All Black Squad for next week against Boks

Dan Carter has been left out of the 31-man All Blacks squad to play the Rugby Championship test against South Africa in Johannesburg on July 26.

Highlanders first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga has been preferred as the third No 10 behind Beauden Barrett and Colin Slade, as the All Blacks selectors look to assess all their playmakers before deciding on their Rugby World Cup squad.

Midfielder Sonny Bill Williams will also stay back in New Zealand.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen had promised to give all players listed in his 41-man squad a run. Carter and Williams will be left in New Zealand to enable them to freshen-up for the two tests against the Wallabies.

“In deciding on the squad to travel to South Africa, the selectors based their selections on three criteria,” Hansen said.

“Firstly, we have picked experienced players who are well aware of the challenge of playing South Africa at home.

“Secondly, we want to give some other players the opportunity to see how they cope under the extreme pressure of playing South Africa; and thirdly, we took into consideration the fact that some players in the squad could do with having a break for various reasons, so they will be staying home to freshen up.”

Hansen said leaving Carter and Williams in New Zealand was not a question of form.

“Normally if we had a squad of 31, both of them would be in it and would be coming,” Hansen said.

“Sonny has got bit of a busy schedule so we will let him have some time at home and DC can have some time at home as well – along with the other guys.”

Other notable selections for the trip were the inclusion of Codie Taylor as the preferred third hooker ahead if Hika Elliot and James Broadhurst has been given the nod over fellow Hurricanes lock Jeremy Thrush.

Hansen said Elliot had a sore tricep and was not going for that reason. Nehe Milner-Skudder was left at home because he had sore ribs, Hansen said.

All Blacks selections at this stage were exploratory, Hansen said.

“No-one has jumped over anyone at the moment. We are just trying to find what is the right 31, we have got to get combinations. We have got to get versatility as well. Because once you replace them they are gone.

“We are just building on what we are trying to do as a team. With a squad of 41 if we do have to bring people in then we have had guys who have a taste of it and know what it is like and can fit in pretty easily.”

ALL BLACKS SQUAD FOR SOUTH AFRICA

Hookers: Dane Coles, Keven Mealamu and Codie Taylor
Props: Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Nepo Laulala and Tony Woodcock

Locks: James Broadhurst, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano and Samuel Whitelock

Loose forwards: Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw, Liam Messam, Kieran Read and Victor Vito

Halfbacks: Andy Ellis, TJ Perenara and Aaron Smith

First five–eighths: Beauden Barrett, Colin Slade and Lima Sopoaga

Midfielders: Ryan Crotty, Malakai Fekitoa, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith

Outside backs: Israel Dagg, Charles Piutau, Julian Savea and Ben Smith

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