Bok rehab camp 'was crucial'
Port Elizabeth - South Africa were made to go to rehab and hope the benefits will show against New Zealand in the Tri-Nations on Saturday before they head to the World Cup to defend their title.
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After a purple patch in 2009 when they beat the All Blacks three times in a row for the first time since 1949, the Springboks have lost their last four matches against their greatest rivals.
They have also gone down in five of their last six matches against Australia, so the heat is really on the home side in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth.
Springbok coach Peter de Villiers has made five changes to the frontline team that he returned to action last weekend against Australia. Many of the top players had missed the away leg of the Tri-Nations to attend a "rehabilitation camp".
Scrumhalf Fourie du Preez said it was important now to reap the benefits.
"The rehab camp was very crucial and we've got what we wanted out of it. Oviously we want to get one over the All Blacks to give us momentum, give hope to our fans and get our confidence back," Du Preez told reporters on Thursday.
All Blacks coach Graham Henry will field an experimental line-up, with several inexperienced players in the backline but some seasoned veterans up front.
Seven frontline players - including regular captain Richie McCaw and star flyhalf Dan Carter - have been rested after the rigours of the expanded Super Rugby competition and two Tri-Nations tests.
"When they face the Springboks on Saturday, it will be an experience a lot of them have never had before. We can talk about it, but until you've experienced it, you don't know what it's like," said Henry.
"These guys will be under extreme pressure and the real test is whether they can make good decisions in that situation. While South Africa have players who have played a lot of Tests in key decision-making areas, we are inexperienced in those areas," Henry said on Thursday.
But despite Henry's concerns, New Zealand look in excellent shape for the World Cup, starting next month, having won 13 of their last 14 Tests.
The extreme pace of the All Blacks backline - and the power of centres Sonny Bill Williams and Richard Kahui - will test a Springbok defence that has been poor over the last year, although they did show improvement in last weekend's 14-9 defeat by Australia.
Flyhalf Morné Steyn, one of the heroes of their 2009 Tri-Nations triumph and series win over the British and Irish Lions, will be under pressure to add attacking spark to his reliable kicking game.
The 20-year-old Pat Lambie has been included at fullback to add pace to the Springbok backs while Bismarck du Plessis gets a start at hooker after a fine Super Rugby tournament.
Regular captain John Smit will be on the bench as speculation mounts that his international career may be nearing its end. New Zealand hooker Keven Mealamu, who will lead the All Blacks on Saturday, was quick to issue a warning.
"I have a funny feeling that John Smit will be right on the button at the World Cup. There's nothing worse for a player than when people write you off and Saturday's a chance for him to stamp his mark again."
15 Pat Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp
Substitutes: 16 John Smit, Tendai Mtawarira, CJ van der Linde, Danie Rossouw, Ashley Johnson, Francois Hougaard, Butch James
15 Israel Dagg, 14 Isaia Toeava, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Adam Thomson, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu (captain), 1 Tony Woodcock
Substitutes: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Jarrad Hoeata, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Piri Weepu, 22 Cory Jane