Springboks to play full-strength team against Samoa
THE Springboks stand in the way of Samoa qualifying for the quarterfinals of the Rugby World Cup.
The Samoans were no great shakes in their 27-7 win over Fiji in their Pool D match yesterday, but what they did do was keep alive their chances of qualifying for the tournament play-offs.
The result lent much greater importance to Friday night's clash at North Shore between the Boks and the islanders.
The South Africans will now be compelled to play their strongest side, but without captain John Smit, who will be rested.
Bismarck du Plessis will thus have a long-awaited start.
The defending champions will also be hoping stand-in captain Victor Matfield suffers no ill-effects from his hamstring injury, while there is still concern about Bakkies Botha's achilles injury.
Botha needs to reach full fitness soon or he risks being sent home.
Otherwise the Springboks are in fairly good shape compared to their potential quarterfinal opponents Australia, who have suffered a slew of injuries. Their good news is that influential open-side flanker David Pocock, so desperately missed in their defeat against Ireland, looks ready to return for their next match.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans confirmed that Pocock and utility back James O'Connor were likely to feature against Russia on Saturday. Pocock missed two matches with a lower back injury.
The Wallabies also believe Pat McCabe's shoulder injury is not as serious as initially feared.
Whether he features on Saturday however, is still debatable.
The Wallabies' injury woes were compounded when Waratahs centre Rob Horne fractured a cheekbone in his first tackle against the United States on Friday, while another centre, Anthony Faingaa, was concussed. "It was one of the worst concussions I've seen," utility back Berrick Barnes remarked.
All this has given rise to talk of an SOS call to Matt Giteau, who was left out of the original squad.
Wycliff Palu will have a scan on a hamstring strain, while backs Kurtley Beale and Drew Mitchell have also tightened up.
It is hardly the kind of situation Deans would have wanted in the build-up to the knockout stages.
Taking a different view to most, Bok technical adviser Rassie Erasmus said he felt Australia and Ireland were equally undesirable opponents in the quarterfinals.
"I don't think a game against Ireland would be easy, especially in this weather," he said. "Knowing their coaching staff I don't know which game would be easier. We would still have to play New Zealand to get to the final anyway and playing New Zealand at home would be a helluva task. Wouldn't it be great to go that route and win the World Cup in New Zealand? That would be the ultimate. The guys in 2007 didn't play Australia or New Zealand. If you want to go one better I can't think of a better way. But it's a very tough road."
He dismissed talk that the Boks might consider finishing second in the pool to get an easier passage to the final.
"Think of walking in front of a team and telling them: 'Boys, we are going to throw this game.' How do you do that? How do you face 30 players and tell them they must lose? I've never been part of a team which said it would do something like that. In theory, that idea might cross a coach's mind.
"But the minute you tell the team that, you've lost the tournament. I don't think it can happen."