Johannesburg - South Africa's preparations for their World Cup
defence have been shaken by questions over whether their
highly-respected captain, hooker John Smit, is the right man to once
again lead them into battle, or whether his presence will prove a
telling weak link.
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inspirational leadership and solid play were lauded as being major
factors in the Springboks' 2007 World Cup triumph in France. Four years
on, and many South Africans consider Smit to be symbolic of that team's
demise, his presence being blamed for their slide from the peak of world
Smit's cause has not been helped by the form of his
Sharks team-mate and rival for the number two jersey, Bismarck du
Plessis, whose abrasive play and sheer physical presence have won him
South Africa's poor recent form - they have lost
eight of their 10 Tri-Nations matches against World Cup favourites New
Zealand and Australia in the last two years - has raised questions over
whether coach Peter de Villiers' decision to retain most of the 2007
World Cup-winning squad is a wise one.
It will allow the
Springboks to field a vastly experienced team in New Zealand, with the
likes of wings Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen, centres Jean de Villiers
and Jaque Fourie, scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, flank Schalk Burger, locks
Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha, and Smit knowing what it takes to
beat the world.
But the change in law interpretations, now
favouring the attacking team retaining the ball, has been a blow to the
Springboks' formerly highly-effective kicking strategy and suffocating
defence, and it remains to be seen whether they can adapt to a game that
has become faster and more fluid.
South Africa's defence has
also become alarmingly soft, conceding 22 tries in last year's
Tri-Nations and 11 in two matches on the away leg this year, though it
did stiffen in their two matches at home, when their defensive line was
breached several times but they conceded just two tries.
the "old guard" may be falling out of favour with the fickle South
African public, De Villiers has included some new blood that has
occasionally lifted the Springboks from their slumber.
Tendai Mtawarira and flanker Willem Alberts are powerful ball-carriers,
while exciting backs like Pat Lambie, Francois Hougaard, Gio Aplon and
Juan de Jongh are capable of scintillating play.
But it is
openside flanker Heinrich Brussow who will perhaps be most crucial to
South Africa's hopes. He is the only player who has the pace and skills
to match New Zealand's Richie McCaw and Australia's David Pocock, who
have proven to be the Springboks' chief nemeses in the Tri-Nations.
But with a hard-driving forward pack, a powerful lineout, a marvellous
playmaker in Du Preez, and a history of being able to win knockout
games, the Springboks are optimistic they will quickly return to winning
ways in the World Cup.
South Africa open their World Cup
campaign on Sept. 11 against Wales, their chief rivals in Pool D,
although their matches against Samoa and Fiji will be bruising
encounters as well.