Schalk Burger has been withdrawn from the South Africa team to face Italy at the Puma Stadium in Witbank tomorrow. Burger had been receiving treatment for an ankle sprain sustained last week during the Test match against France. The Springbok medical team advised that Burger be withdrawn as there remained a risk of further injury. Burger's place in the starting XV will be taken by François Louw, his Cape Town Stormers teammate.
Meanwhile, Gavin Thomas, the Wales back-row forward, will make his first appearance for two years as one of three changes to Warren Gatland's starting side to face the All Blacks in tomorrow's first Test in Dunedin. Thomas replaces Sam Warburton from the side that lost 31-34 to South Africa in Cardiff two weeks ago, while Andrew Bishop comes in for James Hook, the injured centre, and Alun-Wyn Jones is preferred to Deiniol Jones at lock. "Andrew has been one of the form centres in Wales this year," Gatland, the coach, said yesterday. "Up front, Gavin Thomas is an experienced flanker who knows all about what it takes to perform at the international level."
Robbie Deans admitted the decision to drop Luke Burgess and Berrick Barnes, who were outstanding for Australia last weekend, was "probably one of the hardest selection processes I've been involved with". Will Genia replaces Burgess and Matt Giteau comes in for Barnes in the only two changes to the team for tomorrow's second Test against England in Sydney. England, meanwhile, have reacted to the defeat last week at the hands of the Wallabies by drafting in Ben Youngs and Courtney Lawes who will make their first starts for their country. Youngs, the Leicester scrum-half, replaces Danny Care after making a lively impression off the bench in the 27-17 defeat last weekend while Lawes, the athletic Northampton lock, takes over from Simon Shaw in the second row.
"This is a great opportunity for Ben, who has been with us since the middle of the Six Nations - the same for Courtney," Martin Johnson, the team manager, said. "Ben brings something different to Danny but it is not a reflection on Danny's performance" Andy Robinson, who used to coach England, has told his Scotland players to forget last weekend's convincing win over Argentina when the teams meet in a return match on Saturday.
"That's in the past now," Robinson said. "The scoreboard starts at 0-0 and the Pumas await." Geordan Murphy has described the decision to hand him the captaincy for the first time in his 67-cap Ireland career against New Zealand tomorrow as a "huge honour". * Agencies