Boks have to hit the ground running today

Little time to adjust for Wallabies game

 

STEPPING IN: Lionel Mapoe of the Lion is tipped to replace Jean de Villiers in the Bok side. PICTURE: GALLO IMAGES
STEPPING IN: Lionel Mapoe of the Lion is tipped to replace Jean de Villiers in the Bok side. PICTURE: GALLO IMAGES

AUSTRALIAN tours are tough, but arriving on Monday night before a test, on the back of a game the previous weekend, makes it even tougher for the Springboks.

The 31-man Bok touring party to Brisbane touched down last night and will not have a full training session until today, and another tomorrow. It is a short week.That is why most of the preparations for Saturday’s Rugby Championship opener against the Wallabies at the Suncorp Stadium were done over the past fortnight.

The Boks came out of a clash against the World XV last Saturday – which they won 46-10 – clear on the injury front. That will allow coach Heyneke Meyer to pick the team he had in mind.

He said after Saturday’s win at Newlands that there would be changes this weekend. It is likely that tighthead prop Frans Malherbe will be brought back into the 23-man squad along with Lionel Mapoe.

Malherbe is likely to replace Vincent Koch and Mapoe could come in for Jean de Villiers, who stayed behind to continue his rehabilitation.

Meyer is likely to stick with Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel in the centre, giving Kriel his first test cap after an impressive showing against the World XV at the weekend.

“We’ve usually travelled to Australia on a bye weekend, giving us one extra day to prepare, but we don’t have it this year and we will have to make sure we hit the ground running [today],” Meyer said.

“We’ve worked on a couple of new things since we got together and the match against the World XV was a good barometer to see where we stand. The challenge this week would be to improve on certain aspects of the game and to fine-tune others.

“We need to make a big step-up against the Wallabies. It will be a very high-tempo game and proper test match rugby against one of the top sides in the world.

“They had two teams in the semifinals of Super Rugby this year, which probably points to more depth in their structures.”

The Boks’ record in Brisbane is unimpressive, losing nine of 12 meetings. Their last victory was the last time they met at Suncorp in 2013 when the visitors won by a record 38-12, scoring four tries in the process.

It is Meyer’s best away achievement to date and was the first time the Boks had won in Queensland in nine attempts since 1971.

“Before that match, the Springboks had never beaten Australia at Suncorp Stadium, and although the match was played two years ago, we’d like to build on that performance,” Meyer said.

“They are always tough opponents at home – since the start of the Tri-Nations in 1996 and then in the Castle Lager Rugby Championship, the Springboks have won only three out of 23 matches against the Wallabies in Australia, drawing one and losing 18.”

ý Francois Hougaard will have one more opportunity to play his way into Meyer’s World Cup squad.

Hougaard, 27 – capped 35 times in the green and gold – had an incredible Super Rugby campaign, despite the Bulls’ woeful season as he played on the wing for the Pretoria side. He was a surprise exclusion from Meyer’s Bok squad.

The diminutive and nippy utility back has played a portion of his rugby at scrumhalf for the national team, and that is where he would be hoping to squeeze his way back into the Springbok fold. He is destined for Japan later in the year, joining the Canon Eagles at the end of his contract with the Bulls in October.

Hougaard will feature for the Blue Bulls in the Currie Cup before the move, playing at No 9 while Rudy Paige does Springbok duty and Piet van Zyl nurses a knee injury.

The Bulls begin their Currie Cup preparations this weekend with a warm-up match against the Eastern Province Kings in Port Elizabeth on Friday.

The following week they travel to Japan to play their final warm-up match ahead of the domestic competition against Hougaard’s new team.

It will be a fresh start for the Bulls under a new Currie Cup coaching staff headed by Nollis Marais, and a fairly youthful playing squad. Several players have left Loftus, while others are on Bok duty.

– Craig Ray and Chumani Bambani

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