Already reeling from the suspension of Bakkies Botha and Jean de Villiers in addition to the long-term injury sustained by Fourie du Preez, South Africa suffered another blow yesterday when Andries Bekker was ruled out of Saturday's Test with Australia. The 6ft 8in second-row forward was ruled out of this weekend's Tri Nations clash because of a back injury, leaving Peter de Villiers, the Springboks coach, to dig deep into his resources to find a partner for Victor Matfield. The Springboks are already without Botha, their first choice second row, who was banned for nine weeks after headbutting Jimmy Cowan, the New Zealand scrum-half, in their opening defeat to New Zealand.
De Villiers is likely to ask Danie Roussouw, the back-row forward, to partner Matfield. Bekker suffered an acute disc injury late in the second half of the world champions' 31-17 defeat against New Zealand and will miss Saturday's match in Brisbane. "It is a setback but we will have to deal with it," De Villiers said in a news release. "We have to rely on the strength within our squad for the Test. It is a blow for Andries, too, as he was just coming back from a previous injury."
Matfield, meanwhile, is concerned about the refereeing at the breakdown. Matfield, John Smit, his captain, and De Villiers are unhappy with the way Alan Lewis and Alain Rolland have policed that area in the past two Tests, where the All Blacks have been able to pilfer South African ball or at least disrupt it. "I felt we couldn't get quick ball," Matfield said. "In the Super 14 they got the tackler away much quicker and that's not happening at the moment. But again, we want to adapt to the referee and we didn't do it tonight."
New Zealand, meanwhile, are clearly not resting on their laurels. They lead the Tri Nations standings on 10 points after two home bonus-points victories over South Africa but they have dropped Rene Ranger, the try-scoring winger, and Liam Messam, the flanker, from the squad to face Australia in Melbourne next week. Ranger, who marked his first start for the All Blacks with a try on Saturday, has been replaced by Joe Rokocoko in the 26-man squad for the July 31 Test.
Victor Vito comes in for Messam after recovering from a calf injury. Alby Mathewson, the Auckland Blues scrum-half, will also form part of the squad as cover for Piri Weepu, whose wife is due to give birth to their first child this week. * Agencies