x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Burger time for the Boks

The only change for the Springboks is the inclusion of the 49-Test veteran at the expense of flanker Heinrich Brussow.

JOHANNESBURG// South Africa's coach Andre de Villiers yesterday resisted the temptation to tamper too much with his winning team when he announced his team for the second match against the British and Irish Lions this weekend. The only change to the side is the inclusion of 49-Test veteran Schalk Burger at the expense of flanker Heinrich Brussow.

Hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle was also named on the bench in the place of prop forward Gurthro Steenkamp. There had been speculation that centre Adrian Jacobs, the weak link in the Bok midfield, would lose out to the bigger Jaque Fourie, but De Villiers and his co-selectors stayed loyal to the man in possession. Assistant coach Gary Gold justified Burger's inclusion on the basis that he would have been first choice last week "had he been fit".

No doubt strengthening his cause was Gold's contention that Burger's ability to close down the midfield channel had been a factor given how the Lions' Brian O'Driscoll and Jamie Roberts caused havoc in this area. "We feel Schalk's ready to go and it's nice to be able to rely on a guy with 49 caps." He confirmed that the captain John Smit was now seen as an out and out tighthead, adding that while Tendai "Beast" Mtawarira had earned the plaudits, Smit had also done a sterling job in the front row.

Smit described this weekend's match in Pretoria as "a chance for us to finish and a chance for the Lions to survive", adding that these factors made the match a lot "spicier" than the first one. Unlike Durban, the "sold out" signs have gone up on this one. Neither Smit nor Gold expects an easier time of it, Gold predicting the Lions will hit back hard and heavy. "They will give us hell of an onslaught up front. We're expecting the Lions to make a couple of changes and to raise the ante at scrum and maul time. They're an exceptional team and will be vastly improved."

Unusually, both Smit and team talisman Bryan Habana offered words of comfort for two ailing Lions. Smit said he empathised with Phil Vickery, the English prop who was slated after Mtawarira hammered him last week. Smit was not crass enough to discuss Vickery's difficulties one-on-one, but the pair did exchange jerseys and a warm word. "Phil has proved he's a guy who bounces back time after time. It's sad when one guy gets individualised as the reason for failure, but I'm sure Phil is strong enough to realise he has a couple of seasons left in him," said Smit.

Habana, meanwhile, backed winger Shane Williams, who has endured an indifferent tour. "We shared a room during the Barbarians get-together last year. He's a fantastic guy and a fantastic player. He's the IRB Player of the Year and he deserves to be. Like me after I won it, though, things haven't run his way. I really wish him luck. He's been great for his team and for world rugby." Having endured two years' intense build-up to last weekend, Smit said the moment had lived up to every expectation.

"It was everything I had hoped for, and more. The hype and the build-up was amazing. Seeing thousands of red jerseys, listening to the chants . . . it was a wonderful occasion. I'll be more calm now that the first one is out of the way." Conceding that South Africa had become frazzled towards the end of the match in Durban, he said they had nonetheless shaken off the rust. "We didn't stick to the game plan in terms of structure and we were disappointed in our defensive system, but we still have lots in the bag. The first run-out of the season is always interesting, but the 80 minutes will definitely have helped us."

Habana agreed, conceding that the backs had not been at their best. "There isn't much wrong with our defensive systems, just individual errors. As backs we let ourselves down a little bit. I love Loftus Versfeld and the Highveld generally suits the Boks. I'm really looking forward to visiting the whitewash on Saturday." cvanderberg@thenational.ae

Frans Steyn, JP Pietersen, Adrian Jacobs, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana, Ruan Pienaar, Fourie du Preez, Pierre Spies, Juan Smith, Schalk Burger, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, John Smit (captain), Bismarck du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira. Replacements: Chiliboy Ralepelle, Deon Carstens, Andries Bekker, Danie Rossouw, Heinrich Brussow, Jaque Fourie, Morne Steyn.