Well miracles will never cease. No less than fifteen of the Rustenburg 21 have been raised from the dead and will front up against the Wallabies at Kings Park on Saturday. And not a minute too soon for Springbok fans who have found the Tri-Nations joke wearing a bit thin, even though there is a World Cup reason to the short-term madness that saw the Springbok jersey humiliated in Sydney and Wellington.
There will no doubt be sardonic grins in Auckland and Sydney at the Lazarus-like restoration to rude health of sure-fire World Cup starters in Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Gurthro Steenkamp, Beast Mtawarira, Pierre Spies, Fourie du Preez, Butch James, Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie, JP Pietersen, Bryan Habana, Frans Steyn and Francois Hougaard.
And all of them will feature in Saturday’s return match with a Wallabies side that walloped the Boks 39-20 at Australia’s Olympic Stadium – along with handful of the shamed tourists.
In the squad of 24 announced yesterday for the Tests in Durban and Port Elizabeth (against New Zealand), the forwards survivors from the tour are captain John Smit, Danie Rossouw, Gerhard Mostert, Jean Deysel and CJ van der Linde. Apart from certainties in Smit and Rossouw, the others played their way into the World Cup (and Tri-Nations) reckoning.
Mostert and Deysel are the bolters after they took their chances with big games against the All Blacks last week after the injuries to locks Johann Muller and Flip van der Merwe. Mostert, who was released by the Sharks to join Stade Francais, has also leapfrogged his former Sharks team-mate Alistair Hargreaves.
Veteran Van der Linde came from nowhere to play his way back into contention with fighting performances off the bench.
Tourists who disappointingly did not make the most of their opportunity on tour and have been discarded are the Bulls front-rankers Werner Kruger and Dean Greyling, but their colleague Chiliboy Ralepelle is unlucky.
Then again, the words of selection chief Pieter Jooste were revealing when he yesterday said that the last six positions in the World Cup squad would come down to comparing the performances of certain players in the Tri-Nations home leg with those of recent tourists.
For instance, a player such as Patrick Lambie, who has been discarded for the home leg of the Tri-nations, is just about certain to go to the World Cup.
While he will not start in the big games at the Rugby World Cup, his versatility in being able to cover 10, 12 and 15 make him an invaluable tourist.
In the meantime, Butch James is the man of the moment at flyhalf. The No 10 jersey is his for the taking if he can produce commanding performances over the next fortnight. Morne Steyn is on the outer, but coach Peter de Villiers will revert to the hero of the Lions series if James does not make the most of this opportunity.
Of the backline players that toured last month, a number have vanished because of inconsequential performances, including Wynand Olivier, Adrian Jacobs, Bjorn Basson and Lwazi Mvovo, although the impressive fullback against Australia in Sydney, Gio Aplon, is recalled after missing the Wellington Test because of injury.
Otherwise, the backline reserves are almost completely overhauled. Only Juan de Jongh, Aplon and Ruan Pienaar are retained, and none of them will start against the Wallabies this week.
The long-term injured players that were not considered for the Tri-Nations but could still make the World Cup squad are Juan Smith, Schalk Burger, Duane Vermeulen and Willem Alberts.
Cheetahs opensider Heinrich Brussow makes his comeback today for the Cheetahs in the Currie Cup and if he comes through unharmed, is tipped to start the Test match.
Likely Springbok starting line-up against Wallabies: 15 Frans Steyn 14 JP Pietersen 13 Jaque Fourie 12 Jean de Villiers 11 Bryan Habana 10 Butch James 9 Fourie du Preez 8 Pierre Spies 7 Heinrich Brussow 6 Danie Rossouw 5 Victor Matfield 4 Bakkies Botha 3 Jannie du Plessis 2 John Smit (capt) 1 Beast Mtawaria
Tri-nations squad for home leg: Backs: Gio Aplon, Frans Steyn, JP Pietersen, Bryan Habana, Jaque Fourie, Jean de Villiers, Juan de Jongh, Morné Steyn, Butch James, Ruan Pienaar, Fourie du Preez, Francois Hougaard
Forwards: Pierre Spies, Jean Deysel, Danie Rossouw, Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield, Gerhard Mostert, John Smit (capt), Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira, Jannie du Plessis, Gurthro Steenkamp, CJ van der Linde
by Mike Greenaway
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