South Africa have had a poor lead up to the rugby world cup, coming last in the 2011 tri nations tournament. They sent weakened teams on tour to New Zealand and Australia who were duly dispatched, and then picked their strongest XV at home to Australia only to give a rusty performance and lose to a committed Australian team. Their vaunted scrum was pushed off the ball in their own half, leading to a scrum penalty that Australia converted to push their lead over three points and out of the Springboks’ reach. A final win against New Zealand’s own shadow XV will have been some consolation.
Coach Pieter de Villiers has gone for experience in his squad and picked the core of the team who won the world cup in 2007. Some say by choosing to start John Smit over Bismarck du Plessis at hooker, he is taking this theory too far; certainly du Plessis has looked a force in his substitute appearances. South Africa’s locking combination of Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield are high class rugby players and have been the engine room of the team for many years, while the back row has outstanding players such as Heinrich Broussow, the warrior Schalk Burger making his comeback from injury, and the ball running talent of Pier Spies.
South Africa are blessed with exceptional halfback talent in Fourie du Preez and Ruan Pienaar, and although neither has been in top form it can be expected that class will out. The kicking specialist Morne Steyn seems to have seen off the challenge of Butch James for the flyhalf spot, with talented youngster Patrick Lambie an option there as well as fullback if the Boks feel they need more running late in the game.
In the centres, Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie are an outstandingly solid partnership but may not offer as many line breaks as some fans would like, while wings Habana and Pieterson are talented runners but often reduced to high speed kick chasers. Fullback Frans Steyn seems to be following in the footsteps of Percy Montgomery as far as hairstyles go, but his booming boot is always a threat for long range place kicks or drop goals.
South Africa’s pool competition will be Wales, Fiji, Samoa and Namibia. While the African rivalry may cause Namibia to play out of their skins and the island nations have come close to toppling the Boks in past world cups, Wales are the side the Boks will be most wary of, and their first up clash will be key. The group winner will likely face Ireland in the quarters, and then New Zealand in the semis, if results fall according to world rankings.
Props: Jannie du Plessis, CJ van der Linde, Tendai Mtawarira, Gurthro Steencamp
Hookers: John Smit (C), Bismarck du Plessis, Chiliboy Ralepelle
Locks: Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Johann Muller
Flankers: Heinrich Brussow, Schalk Burger, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw
No. 8s: Pierre Spies, Danie Roussow
Halfbacks: Fourie du Preez, Francois Hougaard, Ruan Pienaar
Flyhalves: Morne Steyn, Butch James
Centres: Jean de Villiers, Jacque Fourie, Juan de Jongh
Outside backs: Patrick Lambie, Gio Aplon, Bryan Habana, Frans Steyn, Odwa Ndungane, JP Pietersen
2011 results (most recent first): W, L, L, L. Last in 3N.
Tries in 2011: 3 in 4 matches in 3N.
Main goal kickers: Morne Steyn, Frans Steyn, Butch James, Patrick Lambie.